Public-private partnership to improve maize harvests 30-50 percent and provide options for African smallholder farmers
February 17, 2010
- Funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID
- In-kind contributions from partners
A group of public and private agriculture organizations today announced an alliance that will improve food security and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa. The alliance will create and share new maize varieties that use fertilizer more efficiently and help smallholder farmers get higher yields, even where soils are poor and little commercial fertilizer is used.
The collaboration, known as Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS), will be led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and funded with $19.5 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID. The project's other partners – Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business; the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI); and the South African Agricultural Research Council (ARC) – also are providing significant in-kind contributions including staff, infrastructure, seed, traits, technology, training, and know-how.
IMAS participants will use cutting-edge biotechnology tools such as molecular markers – DNA “signposts” for traits of interest – and transgenic approaches to develop varieties that ultimately yield 30-50 percent more than currently available varieties, with the same amount of nitrogen fertilizer applied and/or when grown on poorer soils. The varieties developed will be made available royalty-free to seed companies that sell to the region's smallholder farmers, meaning that the seed will become available to farmers at the same cost as other types of improved maize seed.
Maize yields of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are a fraction of those in the developed world, due mainly to the region's poor soils and farmers' limited access to fertilizer or improved maize seed. Because of high transportation costs due to poor roads and rail systems in their countries, African farmers often pay as much as six times more than their U.S. and European peers for fertilizer. As a result, they apply far less than the amounts needed to produce vigorous crops.
“The IMAS project will develop maize varieties that are better at capturing the small amount of fertilizer that African farmers can afford, and that use the nitrogen they take up more efficiently to produce grain,” said Gary Atlin, CIMMYT maize breeder and leader of IMAS. “As a farmer, if all your fertilizer were used by the crop and none lost in the soil, you could save lots of money by purchasing less fertilizer or – better yet for Africa farmers – produce much more grain using the same amount of fertilizer.”
“IMAS is an excellent example of how innovative public-private partnerships can work to improve food availability, livelihoods and lives in areas facing chronic food insecurity,” said Marc Albertsen, Pioneer research director. “Pioneer has a rich pipeline of nitrogen efficiency genes. By applying these genes and our Accelerated Yield Technology™ resources to the IMAS effort, we will help ensure the development of improved maize lines for those who have the most to gain from using new technologies – the smallholder farmers.”
Participation in the project is an example of DuPont’s focus on providing food for a growing population.
In four years or less, African farmers should have access to IMAS varieties developed using conventional breeding that offer a significant yield advantage over current varieties. Improved varieties developed using DNA marker techniques are anticipated to be introduced within approximately seven to nine years, and those containing transgenic traits are anticipated to be available in approximately 10 years, pending product performance and regulatory approvals by national regulatory and scientific authorities, according to the established laws and regulatory procedures in each country, and worldwide.
“African maize farmers must deal with drought, weeds, and pests,” said Wilfred Mwangi, associate director of CIMMYT's Global Maize Program, which is based in Nairobi. “But their problems start with degraded, nutrient-starved soils and their inability to purchase enough nitrogen fertilizer.”
“Like many sub-Saharan African countries, Kenya must optimize the use of its soils for agriculture to increase food security, and do this while facing the climate change, escalating input costs, and a deteriorating natural resource base,” said KARI director, Ephraim Mukisira. “The IMAS project will apply scientific innovations to provide long-term solutions for African farmers, developing maize varieties suited to Kenya's diverse farming ecologies.”
Generating, developing, and applying new knowledge, science, and technology for agriculture is a strategic objective of the ARC. “The ARC is committed to ensure that maize varieties of benefit to resource-poor farmers are developed using the latest technologies available through the IMAS global partnership,” said Shadrack Moephuli, president and chief executive officer of the ARC.
The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) is the premier national institution bringing together research programmes in food crops; horticulture and industrial crops, livestock and range management; land and water management and socioeconomics. KARI promotes sound agricultural research, technology and knowledge generation and dissemination to ensure food security through improved productivity and environmental conservation. For more information, please visit www.kari.org.
The Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is a premier science institution that conducts fundamental and applied research with partners to generate new knowledge, develop human capital and foster innovation in agriculture, through technology development and dissemination, and competitive commercialization of research results, in support of developing a prosperous agricultural sector. For more information, please visit www.arc.agric.za.
CIMMYT is an internationally funded, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and training related to maize and wheat throughout the developing world. CIMMYT works to create, share, and use knowledge and technologies to increase food security, improve the productivity and profitability of farming systems, and sustain natural resources. For more information, please visit www.cimmyt.org.
Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business, is the world’s leading source of customized solutions for farmers, livestock producers and grain and oilseed processors. With headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, Pioneer provides access to advanced plant genetics in nearly 70 countries.
DuPont is a science-based products and services company. Founded in 1802, DuPont puts science to work by creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere. Operating in more than 70 countries, DuPont offers a wide range of innovative products and services for markets including agriculture and food; building and construction; communications; and transportation.
Accelerated Yield Technology™ is a trademark of DuPont or its affiliates.
More news from:
. KARI (Kenya Agricultural Research Center)
. CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center)
. DuPont Pioneer
Published: February 17, 2010