Orange maize does it for Gokwe

The people of Hezekiya village in Gokwe North have much cause to celebrate. Concerted efforts by seed breeders, seed marketing companies, agricultural extension officers and agricultural science researchers have resulted in a marked improvement in their standards of living.he people of Hezekiya village in Gokwe North have much cause to celebrate.

Their efforts through the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa Project (STMA), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US Agency for International Development, have enhanced food security by tackling climate change through development of heat stress and drought-tolerant seed varieties.

Poor soils, high temperatures and low and erratic rainfall make farming in Gokwe North difficult. And climate change projections suggest life is going to get hotter and rainy seasons shorter.

Growing maize here is hard, but people love their sadza. So maize has to be grown.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT, together with partners under the CGIAR Research Programme on Maize, developed heat stress-tolerant maize varieties that were used in the 2016-17 summer cropping season.

Zimbabwe’s Crop Breeding Institute, which falls under the Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Ministry, is one of the key partners.

When indications grew that climate change was going to hit maize production hard, the Crop Breeding Institute was quick to include heat stress-tolerant varieties in the mitigation strategy.

Recently, Gokwe North villagers chronicled how these varieties – some of which are highly nutritious – had doubled yields last season.

At a time Government is encouraging food fortification, researchers introduced the orange-coloured pro-vitamin A maize seed variety.

White maize naturally contains no vitamin A, but new varieties have the property that is vital to child growth and needed by pregnant women and new mothers.

Mrs Tariro Mudazvose, who used one of the new varieties, said: “The varieties perform very well in this region when compared to other commercial varieties.

“After planting the new varieties, I realised six tonnes, which is by far a better yield when compared to the three tonnes I realised the previous season from other varieties that seemed to suffer with the weather.”

Mrs Mudazvose got 5kg of drought and heat-stress tolerant maize seed as part of CIMMY on-farm trials.

Another farmer, Mrs Severia Chigwa, particularly liked the orange-coloured maize variety.

“Malnutrition is now a thing of the past.

“At first I thought the seed companies had re-introduced Kenya maize, which I do not like. To my surprise, orange maize tastes better. Apart from heat resistance, the seed variety also matures early,” added Mrs Chigwa.

She wants to plant more of the variety this year, though she still faces the challenge of poor market access.

“My neighbours are not used to this new orange maize variety and, as a result, the price for orange maize is very low. I am confident that with the passage of time, the villagers will accept orange maize.”

Mrs Maria Mudzamba said the newly introduced varieties were resistant to common diseases and less vulnerable to pests.

Dr Cosmos Magorokosho, leader of CIMMYT research in Zimbabwe and responsible for coming up with climate-resilient strains, said the new “climate smart” varieties had proven to be crucial to combating food insecurity.

“Studies have shown that due to climate change, droughts are going to become more severe. If we don’t improve maize varieties for more variable weather patterns, farmers will suffer. The introduction of new varieties is a good step towards combating the effects of drought and climate change,” Dr Magorokosho said.

According to Dr Magorokosho, the new varieties are becoming popular with farmers and seed companies across Africa.

“We are complementing the Zimbabwe Government’s efforts towards food fortification through methods to naturally increase the vitamin and nutritional content of crops called bio-fortification,” Dr Magorokosho said, adding: “Farmers will really benefit from climate smart maize. Our recent study in southern Zimbabwe showed that farmers that planted these new varieties earned US$500 more as compared to those that used other varieties.”

CIMMYT, according to Dr Magorokosho, has so far produced 50 000 tonnes of certified climate smart varieties, and researchers are targeting a yield of at least 2,5 tonnes per hectare.

Dr Magorokosho said farmers were gradually accepting orange maize.

“The challenges emanated from the misconceptions that the farmers had regarding orange maize. Most farmers thought orange maize was the same as the maize variety that is known as Kenya. Unlike Kenya, orange maize tastes better and is highly nutritious. We are making inroads though, children especially like the taste,” Dr Magorokosho said.

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