Phenomenal Increase in Maize Production
in West and Central Africa


A phenomenal increase in maize production has occurred in West and Central Africa in recent years. It is the result of the introduction of highyielding, droughttolerant, early, and extraearly maturing varieties coupled with the combined activities of a collaborative network of scientists in the region. The introduced varieties have a yield potential of 5 tons per hectare, and are ready for harvest as green maize (eaten boiled or roasted) in 60 days, or as dry grains in only 75 to 80 days. Ordinarily, the maize crop matures in about 120 days.

The average annual growth rate of maize production in the region for the period 1983-1992 was 4.1 percent. The comparable figure for Eastern and Southern Africa for the same period was 0.9 percent, or less than a fourth of the growth rate in West and Central Africa. Some countries recorded extremely high annual growth rates: Burkina Faso (17.1 percent), Ghana (8.3 percent), Guinea (7.6 percent), and Mali (7.5 percent).

The land area devoted to maize production has also increased significantly (an average of 2.7 percent per year for the region). Much higher expansion rates were reported for several countries: Guinea (9.4 percent), Burkina Faso (7.4 percent), Mali (6.6 percent), and Zaire (5.5 percent). Nigeria, the most populous country in the region, scored substantial gains as well. The annual rate of growth in area cultivated to maize was 3.5 percent, and the annual gain in production was 5.3 percent.

In each country, the rate of growth of production exceeded the rate of growth of land area devoted to cultivation. This indicates that the increases in production were due to gains in yield per unit area, and not merely to expansion of area.

Evidence abounds

Evidence of the gains in maize production in the region literally stares an investigator in the face. Green maize boiled onthecob, or roasted, has become a common sight along roadsides in villages and towns and along highways in the Sudan savanna. Green maize is available as early as April where farmers take advantage of the residual soil moisture along the river banks. This early production helps alleviate hunger when the previous harvests have been largely depleted, and when the new plantings of other crops and traditional varieties are not ready for harvesting.

As a result of increased production, dried maize is available in local markets for much longer periods than in the past. This is true not only of markets in large Sahelian towns such as Bamako and Ouagadougou, but also in many villages and small towns throughout the region. Moreover, new uses have been found for the increased production. Maize is being substituted for sorghum and millet in some local dishes, and industries are using it for brewing and for oil extraction. Everybody seems to have benefited-the farmers who grow the crop, the major distributors, the socalled middlemen and women, the petty vendors selling green maize on the roadside or selling dried maize by the cup, as well as industrialists.

Regional collaboration

IITA scientists started work on new maize varieties under the auspices of the SemiArid Food Grain Research and Development Project (SAFGRAD). The SAFGRAD Project, covering maize, sorghum, millet, and cowpea, was sponsored by the Scientific, Technical, and Research Commission of the Organization of African Unity (OAU/STRC) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). IITA was responsible for the maize and cowpea components of the Project.

The development of extraearly varieties of maize (varieties maturingfully in 80 days) became a research objective in 1984 and followed earlier success in breeding early (90day) varieties. Achievement of the new objective called for activities that only an international research organization stood any chance of successfully carrying out. Maize varieties with potentially appropriate characteristics were assembled from around Africa, Colombia, India as well as from the extensive collection at Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maizy y Trigo (CIMMYT) and evaluated in field experiments.

Two yellowgrained indigenous varieties (landraces) from Burkina Faso and one white Colombian variety were selected following careful experimental assessment of 80 varieties. The three varieties had the virtue of being extraearly (for example, the Colombian variety flowered 42 days after planting, 7 days earlier than the local check variety). But both had relatively low yield potential -2 tons per hectare. The three extraearly varieties were crossed to selected promising, improved white and yellow varieties to develop new varieties combining extraearly maturity with other desirable agronomic characteristics.

By 1987, one yellow and three white varieties that mature in 7580 days and with a yield potential of 3 tons per hectare had been developed. By this time, the West and Central Africa Maize Network (WECAMAN) had become the maize component of the second phase of the SAFGRAD Project. The network comprised maize scientists in the various national agricultural programs of the region and in the international agricultural research and development centers. The four extraearly varieties were offered to national programs of the region for evaluation and further development.

Disease resistance

National program scientists were enthusiastic about the new varieties' extraearliness in the humid ecological zones of the region, although the varieties had been developed for the Sudan Savanna. Yet, to grow them in the humid zones would require them to be protected against several diseases.

Historically, diseases were not a problem in the Sudan Savanna. However, scientists surmised that climate change, including erratic rainfall at the beginning of the season, would cause changes in farming practices. Such changes could induce an increased buildup of maize disease organisms, and usher in hitherto nonexistent diseases.

For these reasons, scientists began, in 1988, to breed resistance to diseases into the extraearly varieties, including the maize streak virus disease, a disease unique to the African continent.

IITA had already bred resistant varieties and developed techniques for incorporating the resistance into other varieties (an accomplishment for which it won the King Baudouin Award for International Agricultural Research in 1986).

Promising streak resistant, extraearly varieties were tested by scientists, members of WECAMAN. They also conducted agronomic trials to determine the optimal farming practices for the new varieties. The recommendations they came up with raised the yield potential of the varieties to 5 tons per hectare.

Inherent advantages

The new extraearly varieties were released by WECAMAN, the maize network. They have been adopted widely by farmers in the Sudan Savanna and in the SudanSahelian transition ecological zone. Their extraearliness ensures that they fit into the shortening growing season, enabling them to escape drought, and generally reducing the risk to farmers caused by climate change. Their multiple disease resistance enlarges their zones of ecological adaptation, leading to a considerable expansion of maize area in West and Central Africa.

Adoption and spread of the varieties have been facilitated by the participation of many national agricultural programs. Internal trade within countries has aided the movement of the new varieties across ecological zones. The increased trade among neighboring countries in West and Central Africa (much of which is informal) has also helped the spread of the varieties.

The quiet revolution represented by the expansion of highly productive, disease resistant maize varieties across the savanna belt of West Africa is a testimony to the efficacy of scientific creativity and wellconceived research collaboration.

International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)


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