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MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards 2019: Africa and Latin America

The MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards were held in Africa and Latin America in 2019 to recognize the contributions of young women and men under 35 who are implementing innovations in maize-based agri-food systems, including research for development, seed systems, agribusiness and sustainable intensification. First launched in Asia in 2018, these awards are part of the efforts that the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) is undertaking to promote youth participation in maize agri-food systems.

Maize is an important staple food across Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, maize faces many challenges, from climate change-related stresses such as drought and heat to emerging pests and diseases. These challenges cannot be solved without the participation of young people at all levels of the maize value chain, from farmers to researchers and change agents. By encouraging and empowering young people to develop innovative solutions to these challenges we can strengthen maize agri-food systems and improve food security across the world.

Young people are the key to ensuring a food-secure future. However, rural youth face many challenges related to unemployment, underemployment and poverty. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, facilitating young people’s participation in agriculture has the potential to drive widespread rural poverty reduction among young people and adults alike. In Africa 60 percent of the population is below the age of 25. Over one-fourth of Latin America’s total population — approximately 156 million people — is between the ages of 15 and 29, the largest proportion of young people ever in the region’s history.

The MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards aim to identify young innovators who can inspire other young people to get involved in maize-based agri-food systems. Part of the vision is to create a global network of young innovators in maize-based systems.

Winners of the MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards Africa 2019 pose with their awards. Photo: J.Bossuet/CIMMYT.

The MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards Africa were held at the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project meeting in Lusaka, May 7-9, where the young innovators had the opportunity to present their work. Looking forward, award recipients may also get the opportunity to collaborate with MAIZE and its partner scientists on implementing or furthering their innovations.

Hildegarde Dukunde, from Rwanda, received the 2019 MAIZE Youth Innovators Award Africa in the category of "Change Agent" for her work helping farmers prevent aflatoxin contamination in their maize by using the DryCard™. Blessings Likagwa of Malawi won in the "Farmer" category for his work using data from drones to implement climate-smart improvements on his maize farm, and inspiring other local farmers to do the same. In the "Researcher" category, Ismael Mayanja received the award after developing a bicycle-powered maize cleaning machine that reduces labor time and improves the health of school children in his native country, Uganda. Admire Shayanowako also won in the same category for his research on increasing maize resistance to the parasitic weed Striga through a soil fungus that acts as a biocontrol agent. Lokwa Mila Giresse of the Democratic Republic of Congo won in the "Change Agent" category for developing a mobile app to fight the fall armyworm.

MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards Latin America 2019 recipients pose for a photo after their award ceremony. Photo: Carlos Alfonso Cortes Arredondo/CIMMYT.

The MAIZE Youth Innovators Awards Latin America were held at the 23rd Latin American Maize Reunion (XXIII Reunión Latinoamericana del Maíz) in Monteria, Colombia, October 7-10. The conference allowed the youth innovators to present their work as well as to network and exchange experiences with MAIZE researchers and partners.

Eduardo Cruz Rojo, Mexico, won in the “Farmer” category for his work using biological control agents to protect maize from fall armyworm. Carlos Barragán and José Esteban Sotelo Mariche, both from Mexico, won in the category of “Change Agent” for their work helping farmers increase their maize yields through inter-cropping and for helping farmers better commercialize their native maize, respectively. In the “Researcher” category, Yésica Chazarreta, from Argentina, won for her research on the effect of maize planting dates on grain filling and drying. Omar Garcilazo Rahme of Mexico was recognized for his work helping farmers grow high-value edible maize fungus in traditional maize production systems. Viviana López Ramírez of Colombia won for her work on bacteriosis in maize, and Lucio Reinoso of Argentina for his contribution to the development of a maize seeder that helps farmers adopt conservation agriculture techniques. In a video message, B.M. Prasanna, director of the CIMMYT global maize program and the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), congratulated the young winners and expressed his hopes that they would inspire other young people to get involved in maize-based systems.