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

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer 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.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs