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April 19 - 24, 2013


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Tropical Agriculture researchers
identify early maturing maize lines

The study comes as hundreds of thousands of small scale
farmers in Kenya have started growing drought resistant
crops in order to mitigate against effects of climate

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Researchers have identified maize parental lines and hybrids with high levels of drought tolerance that could save farmers in Africa.

The early and the extra-early maturing maize genotypes developed and conserved by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) will help in production of maize, one of the key staples in the continent.

“This successful identification has led to the availability and the possibility of sustainable development of more resilient maize varieties with dual characteristics of escaping and tolerating drought in the near future,” said Muhyideen Oyekunle of IITA’s Maize Improvement Program.

Oyekunle said in a study received in Nairobi on Tuesday that the discovery of a high level of drought tolerance among early maturing maize parental lines is also seen as “good news” for farmers, especially in drought-prone areas of Africa where maize is a key staple.

Oyekunle said that 48 percent of the early maturing lines under study from IITA were drought tolerant with tolerance indices ranging from 0.17 (low) to 15.31 (high).

The study comes as hundreds of thousands of small scale farmers in Kenya have started growing drought resistant crops in addition to maize in order to mitigate against effects of climate change.

Late 2012, the Kenyan government said it will begin to engage farmers in order to promote climate smart agricultural technologies which allow them to adapt to the effects of climate change.

Immediate former Minister for Agriculture Dr Sally Kosgei said the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) will supply seeds and planting material of drought tolerant crops for the vulnerable arid and semi arid lands of the country.

“Kenya will assist its farmers to adopt climate smart technologies through drought tolerant seeds in order to help reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases,” Kosgei in October last year.

The challenge is that maize crop in particular, which is grown in almost every small scale farmer in Kenya is very vulnerable to change in weather patterns. For instance, lack of rains at any stage of the crops development makes it to dry up.

The latest study, which was supervised by Drs B. Badu-Apraku, IITA Maize Breeder; S. Hearne, CIMMYT Geneticist; and Professor M. E. Aken’Ova, University of Ibadan, involved screening of over 150 early maturing maize inbred lines and hybrids for drought tolerance over a period of two years across six agroecological zones of Nigeria.

Other activities undertaken by researchers to spot the promising parental lines included assessment of early maturing drought tolerant hybrids under drought stress, molecular characterization of early maturing maize inbred lines, and genetic analysis of early maturing maize inbred lines for drought tolerance genes.

Oyekunle found that under drought conditions, hybrids performed better than open-pollinated varieties and could provide safety nets for farmers during bouts of drought.

He also identified five diverse groups among the early maturing maize inbred lines studied and two inbreds as the best in terms of combining ability for future hybrid production.

Badu-Apraku said the study would offer significant contributions to efforts to address drought effects on maize production.

Production of maize, one of the key staples in Africa, is being thwarted by the recurrence of drought along the maize- growing belt of Africa with farmers reporting losses close to 90 percent in severe instances.

According to IITA, measures being adopted by researchers to prevent the negative consequences of drought include the development of early and extra-early maturing cultivars that complete their life cycles before the onset of drought, and the development of drought tolerant cultivars that possess drought tolerance genes.

Oyekunle said that general considerations in breeding for drought tolerance in maize include information on genetic diversity among tropical maize lines and populations, hybrid performance, and inheritance of drought tolerance.

In collaboration with national programs, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)/community-based organizations (CBOs), and seed companies, IITA has made early and extra-early maturing maize varieties and hybrids available to farmers in West Africa.

These are being widely adopted to the extent that maize cultivation is largely replacing sorghum and millet in the savanna ecologies.

Early and extra-early maize varieties fit into the hunger gap in the savanna zones that normally occurs before the year’s crops mature.

They are also used for early planting and late planting when the rains are delayed, and fit very well into intercropping systems because they are less competitive with the component crops.

These varieties are used as green maize in the forest zones and in peri-urban areas of West Africa.


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