Farmers in the eastern and southern Africa region will soon start planting a new maize variety that is tolerant to fall army worm (FAW) before the end of 2022, a scientist said on Saturday.
Boddupalli Prasanna, director of the global maize program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) said that several African countries will accelerate the process of varietal evaluation and release to farming communities from 2022 onwards.
“The release of the varieties follows a successful development of three fall armyworm-tolerant elite maize hybrids for eastern and southern Africa,” Prasanna told Xinhua during an interview in Nairobi.
He said that CIMMYT scientists are partnering with the National Agriculture Research Systems (NARS) in the targeted countries in eastern and southern Africa to ensure the hybrids are nominated for National Performance Trials (NPTs).
“The process would probably begin in some of the countries in March and it will take one or two years depending on the process adopted by the regulatory authorities in different countries,” said Prasanna.
He said that once the regulatory authorities evaluate the hybrids, seed scale-up and commercialization will begin.
Prasanna said that invasion of FAWs in the region in 2016-2017 paved the way for rigorous evaluation of diverse maize germ plasm from CIMMYT, including germ plasm from Mexico as well as locally developed germ plasm in Africa against the pest under artificial infestation.
The research, he said, has been going on at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization’s (KALRO) research station located in the southeastern part of the country.
“All the experiments took place within the screen houses and not in open conditions. We screened those materials, identified promising germ plasm and then validated them for an additional one or two seasons,” said Prasanna.
He said that a series of experiments have gone on over the last three years before scientists identified a set of eight hybrids for further intensive evaluation.
Prasanna said the eight hybrids alongside some commercial hybrid checks that are widely cultivated in eastern and southern Africa were subjected to intensive screening in the screen houses and under natural FAW infestation at six locations and on-farm trials at 16 locations in Kenya.
He cautioned farmers that the FAW-tolerant maize varieties are not a complete panacea against the pest though they provide significant protection.
“It is almost impossible to eradicate FAW. The pest is here to stay. We need to continue practicing good agronomic practices by cultivating FAW-tolerant and climate resilient maize varieties as a part of integrated pest management, “said Prasanna.
He said that farmers should not spray unnecessarily harmful chemicals or toxic pesticides that can damage their health and the environment.
Prasanna said the availability of improved maize varieties that can resist FAW is a milestone in efforts to boost food security at small-holder level.
Besides screening over 3,500 hybrids in 2018 and 2019, Prasanna said that scientists evaluated their performance under managed drought stress, managed low nitrogen stress, and under artificial inoculation for Turcicum leaf blight (TLB) and Gray leaf spot (GLS) diseases.
He said that on average FAW is reported to cause about 10-12 percent of maize production losses in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).
“This is quite significant given the fact that several African countries are still not self-sufficient for maize,” said Prasanna.
The three maize varieties will be available for NPTs in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Mozambique, Angola, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa.
The fall army worm emerged as a serious threat to maize production in Africa in 2016 before spreading to Asia in 2018. Enditem