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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid