March 21, 2009
by Henry Neondo,
Government of Malawi Friday launched two new drought tolerant
varieties in Balaka District, developed through joint efforts by
Malawi’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security and the
International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center (CIMMYT).
One of the varieties, an early maturing and dwarf variety with
good pounding qualities will be included in the country’s
national agricultural input subsidy program – credited with
being the force behind the nation’s food self-sufficiency and
The varieties will help farmers to increase and stabilize maize
production, safeguarding their livelihoods, food security, and
economic development despite rising food and fuel prices and
climate change effects.
The varieties – ZM 309 and ZM 523 – were developed for
drought-prone areas with infertile soils in eastern and southern
Africa . They are also resistant to maize streak virus, gray
leaf spot, and other diseases.
The new varieties were launched yesterday (20 March 2009) by Dr.
Andrew Daudi, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of
Agriculture and Food Security at a field day in Balaka District
– one of the target areas.
Maize is the most important cereal in Malawi, accounting for 70
percent of all the area planted to grain crops.
In Malawi, as in most of sub-Saharan Africa, it is the most
important staple food crop – integral to food security, and the
nationals typically say "when there is no maize, there is no
The annual per capita maize consumption of in Malawi is 300
kilos: the largest in the world. Maize production is mostly
rainfed and threatened by frequent periods of poor rainfall.
Climate change experts are predicting more frequent and severe
droughts for the region with an estimated annual decline of 0.4
percent in maize productivity.
Malawi's Chitedze Research Station developed the varieties using
seed and technical support from the Mexico-based International
Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, by its Spanish
acronym), through the center's "Drought Tolerant Maize for
Africa (DTMA)" project .
The varieties were tested in farmers’ fields and approved for
release by Malawi's Agricultural Technology Clearing Committee.
“The farmers liked ZM 309 because of its early maturity," says
Kesbell Kaonga, who heads the Maize Program at Chitedze Research
Station in Lilongwe. "In fact, farmers compare the yield of both
varieties to some commercial hybrids available on the market.”
ZM 309 has a potential yield of 5 tons per hectare; while that
of ZM 523 is 6 tons per hectare. Both are open pollinated
varieties (OPV), meaning that farmers can save and re-use the
seed optimally for up to 3 subsequent seasons; compared to
hybrids which typically yield more than OPVs in the first season
but cannot be recycled as they have a steeper decline in
Dr Andrew Daudi, said: “We are grateful to CIMMYT for technical,
financial and scientific support in developing these new
varieties that are suitable for the drought prone areas and will
help the people of Malawi to alleviate poverty and hunger and
cope with climate change; which these days is becoming a
reality. These varieties are drought tolerant, high yielding and
resistant to diseases.”
He said farmers have embraced these new varieties and have even
given them local names, meaning that they appreciate them,
especially ZM 309, which is early maturing, resistant to leafy
diseases and are dwarf – even children can harvest them. “ZM 309
is going to be included in the national subsidy program next
These developments come at a time when Malawi is being looked to
as an African success story due to its food self-sufficiency. It
is also now a net exporter of maize to the region.
According to Wilfred Mwangi, Program Leader, Drought Tolerant
Maize for Africa Project, the CIMMYT-Malawi projects will
provide important lessonf to the rest of Africa.
This success is owed to the country’s agricultural input subsidy
program, initiated by the government in 2005 after Malawi
experienced one of its worst harvests in years.
Farmers are supplied with improved maize seed and fertilizer at
subsidized prices and can choose either hybrid or OPV seed.
Use of improved maize seed and fertilizer has been responsible
for the remarkable increase in agricultural productivity and
associated bumper maize harvests, dubbed Malawi’s Green
Revolution. Farmers are free to choose any suitable seed and
with the encouraging preliminary results of ZM 309 and ZM 523
trials with farmers, it is only a matter of time before they
will be demanding seed of these new varieties.
The DTMA Project is implementing an Innovation Learning Platform
(ILeP) to address these challenges.
Currently being piloted in Malawi’s Balaka District and led by
the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, with support from
CIMMYT, the ILeP is a multi-stakeholder partnership that aims to
ensure that smallholder farmers have access to agro-inputs,
drought tolerant maize varieties, credit facilities and output
markets to increase food security and improve productivity.
Through the ILeP seed companies, agro-dealers and
micro-financial institutions will benefit by marketing their
products to farmers. It involves researchers, extension agents,
seed producers, agro-dealers, grain marketing companies,
non-governmental organizations and micro-financial institutions.
Says Wilfred Mwangi, DTMA Project Leader: “We are grateful for
the support that the ILeP has received from the Malawi
government and encouraged by the progress made in bringing
drought tolerant maize varieties closer to farmers.”
“CIMMYT has been working with Malawian scientists to develop
maize varieties that can cope with climate change and to because
maize is life we want to make a difference in the lives of