Access to improved seeds by smallholder farmers is a prerequisite to increased maize production in West Africa, as climate change hurts yield from traditional varieties, says a study by researchers working under the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Project (DTMA).
The study authored by Dr. Abdoulaye Tahirou et al notes that improved maize varieties tolerant of drought are helping farmers in addressing production risks and called for joint efforts to facilitate their wider dissemination across the subregion.
Consumed by more than 650 million people in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), maize productivity in recent years has been severely threatened by frequent droughts and irregular rainfall. In West and Central Africa, 35% of the area under maize is affected by drought.
The DTMA Project, a partnership led by the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT) and IITA, is helping farmers in cushioning the negative effect of drought by developing and disseminating maize with significantly improved drought tolerance.
Tahirou and colleagues found that although seed companies that are critical to the dissemination of seeds in West Africa have expanded since 2007 from about 10 formal companies to more than 22 currently in the four DTMA countries ( Nigeria, Benin, Mali, and Ghana); their production is still well below demand.
For instance, the total production of improved maize seeds in those countries stands at about less than 15,000 tons while more than 80,000 tons are required for Nigeria alone.
Presenting the findings to stakeholders at the regional meeting of DTMA partners and policymakers in Lagos, Tahirou, who is also IITA Impact Economist, urged governments in the region to tackle the challenge of poor irrigation to pave the way for an all-year-round production of improved seeds to accelerate availability and meet demand.
While commending member countries for adopting fairly liberal seed laws, he advised the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to step up efforts that would see the full implementation of the harmonized regional seed law.
“This will help countries that are lagging behind, as improved drought-tolerant maize varieties will move freely across the region,” he says.
“Equally important for governments in the region is to help seed companies gain access to working capital.”
Dr. Robert Asiedu, IITA Director of Research for Development, says a vibrant seed sector is essential to achieving the DTMA vision—a vision which aims to develop varieties that will give farmers at least one ton per hectare more maize when drought hits, improve smallholder farmer maize productivity by 20 - 30%, and reach 30 - 40 million people in SSA with these new maize varieties.
Nigeria's Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Bukar Tijani described the meeting as 'timely'.
He said, “I would like to stress again that this program which is an effort to mitigate the negative impact of drought on maize production and improve dissemination of relevant improved subsector development technology is most timely.”