News / Africa

New Corn Variety Boosts Food Security Across Africa

A farmer gathers arid corn crops on his farm in Kwale, Kenya (File Photo).
A farmer gathers arid corn crops on his farm in Kwale, Kenya (File Photo).

In times of drought, parched lands yield few, if any, crops, increasing hunger among communities. As one way of boosting food security during these difficult times, scientists in Kenya and across Africa are coming up with maize varieties that are able to produce corn with a minimal water supply.

KDV4

Tucked away in the corner of farmer Philip Ngolania Makau’s living room sits a floor-to-ceiling silo filled with corn. He grabs a basin, opens the tap, and out pours a steady stream of kernels ready to be boiled for the evening meal.

What’s unusual about this scene is that, while his neighbors are struggling to put food on the table, Makau’s family has plenty of corn to spare. This is during a drought near the town of Machakos in eastern Kenya where Makau has his three-quarter-acre farm.

The secret of his success? KDV4.

Makau is in town, now, at the retail shop of the Dryland Seed Company. He is purchasing several bags of KDV4, one of more than 20 corn varieties in Kenya that are drought-tolerant. This is Makau’s second season of planting this variety of corn. He calls his first season a “miracle.”

“In that three-quarter acre [farm], I was getting less than a bag [of corn]," said Makau. "But now, after we got the Dry[land] Seed Company seeds, there has been great change. I am getting five bags in that small area.”

Dryland Seed Company

At the Dryland Seed Company’s warehouse on the edge of town, co-director Edna Ngila is counting sacks of KDV4 seeds and two other varieties of drought-tolerant corn. Over the past year, the company has produced 100 tons of drought-tolerant seeds to sell to farmers.

“They appreciate our seed. They are saying they are not losing a season anymore. Before, they were losing a season," said Ngila. "We only have two seasons in a year to grow our food. If you missed last season, for example, it means you don’t have food until the next season - that will take them about eight or nine months to grow another food.”

The company contracts out about 100 farmers to help the company expand its seed supply. Ngila explains.

“Our aim is to help the farmers eradicate poverty, be part of our business," said Ngila. "So we give them seed to grow for us so we buy from them.”

Ngila and her company works closely with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, or KARI. Dryland Seed Company and its customers such as farmer Makau are the end users of corn that has been developed over many years in research stations across the country.

Drought-tolerant corn

Young Kenyan boys harvest maize in Bomet, Kenya (File Photo).
Young Kenyan boys harvest maize in Bomet, Kenya (File Photo).

Under various conditions, researchers creating drought-tolerant corn examine specific traits of the plant such as the depth of the root system, pollination process, and the rolling of leaves.

“We plant all the different types of varieties - sometimes going up to hundreds - into a field like this," said Dr. James Gethi, the national coordinator of KARI’s maize program. "After reaching a stage just before they flower, you withdraw the water. Once you withdraw the water, the plants grow, simulating an environment where the rain has stopped. At the end of the season, you check at all the different varieties that you have, and check the ones that have done the best.”

He says plants are then tested under natural drought conditions. From there, a “breeder seed” is developed and regulated by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service. The breeder seed is passed on to partners such as Dryland Seed Company, who then develops certified seed that can be sold or distributed to farmers.

Taste

Throughout the process, researchers work closely with farmers to create the ideal crop.

Lloyd Le Page, the chief executive officer of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Consortium, a global network of scientists and researchers that works with groups such as KARI, explains that farmers are looking for a range of characteristics in the plant that go beyond the ability to withstand dryness and heat.

“Maize is such an important staple crop, particularly in East Africa and Southern Africa, that taste is a large factor for them," said Le Page. "It’s no good producing a drought-tolerant crop if it doesn’t taste in the way that they’re looking for.”

The development of drought-tolerant corn is seen as a viable solution to the problem of reduced yields during drought, resulting in food insecurity and famine in severe cases.

A study released last year by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre predicts that widespread adaption of drought-tolerant varieties of maize could boost harvests in 13 African countries by 10 to 34 percent and generate up to $1.5 billion in benefits for producers and consumers.

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs