Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: How Drought Tolerant Maize Variety Enhances Production

Maize is a very important food and economic crop in the country and with the impact of climate change around us, what do you think of maize varieties that can give farmers good harvests, when cultivated after the rainy season, under reduced rainfall or limited water, and even drought?

Climate-smart crops or drought tolerant (DT) crop varieties will come in handy in the country's bid to achieve food sufficiency. Drought tolerant maize in particular is critical for mitigating the impact of climate change.

More so, a study by the World Bank released towards the end of last year predicted that Nigeria and eight other African countries would be greatly affected by drought between 2013 and 2015. Drought is an extended period when a region experiences a deficiency in its water supply, whether surface or underground water. A drought can last for weeks, months or years.

"Drought stress is the single most important abiotic factor that limits crop development and productivity," said Dr. Moses Adebayo of the Department of Crop Production and Soil Science, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology,Ogbomosho, Oyo State.

He said drought has been noted to intensify in response to the changing global climate to the point that the areas that were hitherto not affected are now becoming increasingly drought-prone. Consequently, many more crops are being pushed to more marginal, drought stricken production areas, adding that the unpredictable and sporadic nature of drought has made its control very challenging in rain fed agriculture, particularly of sub-Saharan Africa.

He said: "With maize for instance, yield loss on farmer's field may be as high as 80 percent, or total crop devastation may occur. When severe drought coincides with the time of flowering; the period at which the crop can no longer be saved through re-sowing. Presently, over 60 percent of the farmers who feed Africa are small-scale, resource-poor crop growers who lack the irrigation facilities to mitigate the impact of drought stress whenever it occurs on their farms.

"Hence, the most economically viable and sustainable way to assist these farmers is to deploy the tools of genetics and plant breeding to breed new crop varieties with higher levels of drought tolerance genes. Drought tolerant crop varieties can be grown by farmers at all times, even when there is drought, and the farmers will still be able to record some level of satisfactory harvests."

Scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, have developed and released a numberof high yielding and drought tolerant varieties. They are also carrying out research and developing more varieties. Some varieties were released in August 2013.

Dr Sylvestro Meseka, a maize breeder working on the maize improvement programme of the institute, told a team of journalists sponsored by Biosciences for Farming in Africa, (B4FA) during their visit to the IITA research farm at Ikenne, Ogun State in November last year that developing the varieties was important because of the effects of climate change.

According to him, aside having the capacity to resist and withstand any form of drought that affects the country, the new maize varieties are also resistant to diseases like stem borer.

"We are developing a maize variety that would be good for farmers in the marginal rain areas, particularly in the northern parts of Nigeria where the rain pattern is too short. So, you need to have some of these varieties there," he said.

Meseka told the journalists who met him and some workers applying fertilizer on the drought tolerant maize variety they had planted that the experiment was being conducted using the irrigation system of farming and the seeds would only be watered for 28 days and left to germinate.

Also speaking on the benefits of drought tolerant maize varieties in the northern states, Dr Moses Adebayo said most maize producing states in northern Nigeria belong to the Guinea Savannah agro-ecological zones that have a mono-modal rainfall pattern, between August and November of the year.The impact of climate change is seriously disrupting the annual rainfall pattern and distribution in these zones in a manner that the areas are becoming more prone to random droughts.

"Paradoxically, these zones are the present maize belt of the nation. If the current trend of the occurrence of sporadic droughts goes unabated, the entire nation will be plunged into a state of food insufficiency, particularly of maize, because of poor yields that northern farmers will record due to drought," said Adebayo.

He said it is therefore, pertinent for maize breeders to rise to the occasion by breeding drought tolerant maize varieties that the northern farmers can use to mitigate the impact of drought stress whenever it occurs.

"In the event that there is no drought stress in a year, the farmers who use drought tolerant varieties will still enjoy good harvest because the varieties combine high productivity with drought tolerance. No yield penalty is involved," he said.

He advised that the use of drought tolerant maize varieties does not require irrigation when there is drought, so farmers do not have to worry about how to acquire expensive irrigation facilities, or rely on government to provide.

On how drought tolerant maize varieties will help contribute to food sufficiency in the country, Adebayo said the increase in maize production and productivity that has been witnessed in recent times in Nigeria has been attributed partly to the development of high-yielding and stable drought tolerant maize varieties that were bred and released by IITA for the use of farmers which are IITA 2012 and Cardoni and Angelucci, 2013.

He said in the light of this, breeding drought tolerant maize varieties is already contributing significantly to the national quest of achieving food sufficiency, adding that, "in order for Nigeria to meet the target of over 20 metric tons of annual maize production that is required for local consumption, up from the current annual production of eight metric tons, breeding drought tolerant maize varieties must be given priority."

A maize farmer and national financial secretary, All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Tunde Arosanyin, said he has been using drought tolerant maize for three years now and discovered that the benefits are enormous, especially in relation to the unstable nature of our rain pattern.

"The change in the eco-system has brought about disruption in the rainfall pattern. The rainfall pattern is no longer steady so because of this phenomenon it makes it important for us that are into maize cropping to use these varieties so that even when the rain is not steady we are still able to record good yield," he said.

He however noted that the cobs and grains of the drought tolerant variety he grew in his farm were smaller than those of the ordinary open pollinated varieties, adding, "the cobs are not very big and the grains may not look attractive to buyers using them for domestic purposes."

Another maize farmer, Mrs.Marylyn Ishiaku said though she hasn't used drought tolerant maize variety, the prospect of having good yields with little rain appeals to her and she will use it soon.

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