MAIZE Annual Report 2020 Highlighted Impacts from the CGIAR Research Program on MAIZE

Message from the Director General, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)

Dear friends, supporters and stakeholders of the CGIAR Research Program on Maize,

Last year will be remembered first and foremost for the tragic and destructive global COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis not only destroyed lives and economies but exposed the enormous vulnerability of our food system.

More than ever, we realize the urgent need for actionable science-based solutions for food systems that deliver affordable, sufficient, and healthy diets produced within planetary boundaries.

The dedication and resilience of the scientists, field and lab workers and supportive community of the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) has allowed us to make important advances toward that vision.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the vulnerabilities of our warming, interconnected planet to the global spread of diseases and pathogens As MAIZE and its partners know, these vulnerabilities are as real in terms of plants pests and diseases as they are in terms of communicable diseases in humans. In 2020 they continued the multi-pronged fight against fall armyworm in Africa and Asia, including the announcement of three first-generation fall armyworm-tolerant hybrids in December 2020.

Thanks to long-standing partnerships and open exchange of information and materials, MAIZE supported the release of 48 unique CGIAR-derived high-yielding and climate-resilient wheat varieties in 2020, including 11 nutritionally enriched varieties, boosting farmer resilience and income as well as consumers’ health outcomes.

Improving the health and livelihood outcomes while adapting to a changing climate demands agricultural R4D that is sensitive to local contexts and on-the-ground stakeholders’ socially differentiated needs. MAIZE and its partners have made important strides in understanding how social norms and local gender roles shape the adoption and impact of R4D innovations, and they continue to work to promote more socially inclusive maize agri-food systems.

As they enter their final year in 2021, it is clear that CGIAR Research Programs represent a model for scientific collaboration on global and cross-cutting issues, and for partnerships that deliver tangible science-based impact. The achievements of these programs offer lessons that we must build on as we transition toward a more impactful, dynamic, connected and integrated One CGIAR.

I am proud of the role of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center as the lead Center for the CGIAR Research Programs on Wheat and Maize.

I invite you to read this report for more stories of MAIZE's collaborative success and impact in farmers’ fields. I look forward to continuing our joint work towards resilient and renewed agri-food systems that are strong in the face of current and future crises.

Best regards,

Martin Kropff, Director General

CIMMYT is the lead center for the CGIAR Research Program on Maize

Message from the MAIZE Director

In 2020, faced with the extraordinary challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) continued its mission to strengthen maize-based agri-food systems while improving the food security and livelihoods of the most vulnerable, especially resource-constrained smallholder farmers and their families.

MAIZE made great advances in the development of improved stress-tolerant maize varieties with enhanced genetic gain. In 2020, national partners and seed companies across Africa, Latin America and Asia released 48 unique CGIAR-derived maize varieties. In addition to high yield, these elite varieties are stacked with multiple traits needed by smallholder farmers to protect their crops from drought, heat and diseases. These MAIZE varieties also included 11 nutritionally enriched varieties with improved protein quality, provitamin A and high kernel zinc.

MAIZE and its partners also made significant strides in combatting fall armyworm in Africa and Asia on several fronts, including intensive research on the most effective control strategies. In addition to promoting integrated pest management (IPM) packages tailored to diverse contexts in Africa and Asia, MAIZE announced three first-generation fall armyworm-tolerant maize hybrids in December 2020. This sets the stage for their varietal release, seed scale-up and commercialization.

MAIZE continued testing and promoting conservation agriculture and scale-appropriate mechanization, as part of sustainable intensification efforts in maize-based cropping systems in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

In 2020, MAIZE and its partners also made great advances in understanding how social norms and gender stereotypes inhibit women’s equality and progress in agriculture, and how women are challenging these power dynamics to access improved maize varieties and expand their influence on decision-making in maize-based agri-food systems.

MAIZE will come to a close at the end of December 2021. Yet much work remains to be done to strengthen food security, climate resilience, livelihoods and nutritional well-being in maize-based agri-food systems. The new CGIAR initiatives, especially those under Genetic Innovations and Resilient Agri-food Systems, will undoubtedly carry forward the MAIZE’s legacy of innovative agricultural R4D and strong partnership networks as well as the impactful breeding, seed systems, sustainable intensification work being done by MAIZE in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Over the years, MAIZE has demonstrated the enormous value of deploying impactful varieties in our target regions and of incentivizing farmers to replace these varieties more frequently in order protect genetic gains and to stay ahead of emerging pests and diseases. Moving forward, we must continue to strengthen maize value chains in low- and middle-income countries and to improve the livelihoods of smallholders. We must firmly keep in view the gender and social inclusion dimensions of all our work. And we must continue to emphasize inclusive stakeholder participation and the empowerment of local institutions as foundational to successful and equitable agricultural R4D efforts.

The work presented in this report was possible through the generous and continued support from our funders, particularly through CGIAR Window 1 and 2 funding as well as several Window 3/bilateral projects. MAIZE receives W1&W2 support from the governments of Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom (FCDO), United States (USAID) and from the World Bank.

We would like to extend our sincere thanks to all the MAIZE partners, funders and stakeholders for their active engagement, hard work and support, especially during these challenging times. We hope you enjoy this year’s Annual Report as we look back upon our outcomes and achievements in 2020. MAIZE continues its deepest commitment to work together with our partners towards a more food secure future for all.

B.M. Prasanna, Director

MAIZE Varieties Release Map 2020

Conservation agriculture boosts profits, yields and climate resilience for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa

MAIZE and partners have been supporting smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa to adopt conservation agriculture-based techniques, improving crop productivity, and mitigating against the effects of climate change.

Traditionally, cropping systems in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe have included soil tillage, monocropping, and crop residue removal. The downside to these approaches is that they damage soil fertility and are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. At the same time, researchers and farmers have been frustrated by underwhelming cereal and legume productivity which has remained far below its potential.

Through the Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) project, MAIZE and partners have been working since 2004 to test conservation agriculture techniques using long-term on-farm and on-station experiments. The results of the project have culminated in a rich scientific evidence base demonstrating the benefits of conservation agriculture in the region. Conservation agriculture-based systems have been found to be more adapted to low rainfall and heat stress, the likely major stress in the near future. Conservation agriculture combined with a package of good agronomy has also been found to increase yields by up to 38%.

Building on this scientific evidence, MAIZE researchers are now shifting their attention to understanding how to encourage more smallholder farmers to adopt these approaches, as well as identifying potential obstacles and constraints.

The evidence gained from projects like SIMLESA has had a powerful impact on policy in the region, with decision-makers increasingly promoting climate-smart agriculture interventions. In 2020, the Government of Zimbabwe introduced a nationwide campaign to advance a conservation agriculture-based approach known as Pfumvudza in the country, setting a target to train 1.8 million smallholder farmers.

SIMLESA Lead farmer Agnes Sendeza harvests maize cobs from a stook on her farm in Tembwe, Salima district, Malawi. (Photo: CIMMYT / Peter Lowe)

Tackling misinformation in Ethiopia

Despite the large body of evidence generated by SIMLESA and MAIZE researchers on its benefits, misinformation on conservation agriculture remained widespread in Ethiopia until recent years. Political leaders associated conservation agriculture with herbicides, manual farming, and competition with livestock feed, so it was often left by the wayside in policy discussions.

To tackle these misconceptions, researchers implemented a variety of well-designed advocacy activities to change mindsets and promote adoption of conservation agriculture-based sustainable intensification (CASI) by the national extension system.

As a result of these activities, Ethiopia's Ministry of Agriculture developed a national CASI program, incorporating CASI practices into its extension system and promoting it where appropriate. A manual guiding the gender-sensitive implementation of CASI was also developed in local language and distributed to implementing actors.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change estimates that temperatures in Africa are set to rise significantly in coming years, with devastating results for farmers. Some regions could experience two droughts every five years and see drastic reductions in maize yields over the next three decades. Mitigation strategies like conservation agriculture are vital to help farmers adapt to climate change and strengthen food security.

Funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the SIMLESA program is led by CIMMYT in collaboration with CGIAR centers and national agricultural research institutes in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Other regional and international partners include the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI) at the University of Queensland, Australia, and the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA).

Photo: Emerging green maize from Conservation Agriculture plot (CIMMYT / Alfonso Cortés).

All hands on deck in battle against fall armyworm

When the fall armyworm reached sub-Saharan Africa in 2016, African governments and regional bodies quickly reached for synthetic pesticides to fight the deadly pest. But these pesticides came with unintended consequences, threatening the armyworms’ indigenous natural enemies as well as human health. Long-term use of these pesticides also risked creating an army of insecticide-resistant populations which could tempt farmers to apply more cocktails of chemical pesticides.

Alternative solutions for controlling the pest needed to be quickly tested to prevent further outbreaks. In 2020, under the Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project, MAIZE researchers teamed up with the University of Zimbabwe, the Crop Breeding Institute, and the University of the Free State in South Africa to investigate the most effective strategies to control the fall armyworm in Africa.

The team evaluated the use of pesticides, natural enemies, cultural practices, host plant resistance, plant breeding approaches and integrated pest management (IPM), which involves a combination of biological, cultural and chemical practices to supress pest populations while protecting crops from economic damage and minimizing human and environmental harm.

They found that the most effective way to manage the hungry caterpillar was a culturally guided IPM control strategy, combined with insect-resistance management.

Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is an invasive insect pest that feeds on more than 80 plant species, causing major damage to maize, rice, sugarcane, sorghum and other vegetable crops and cotton. Without effective control, the pest poses a huge threat to food security and farmers’ incomes and livelihoods in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

In December 2020, CIMMYT announced three fall armyworm-tolerant elite maize hybrids for eastern and southern Africa after a breakthrough in research. By leveraging tropical insect-resistant maize germplasm developed in Mexico, coupled with elite stress-resilient maize germplasm developed in sub-Saharan Africa, scientists worked intensively over the past three years to identify and validate sources of native genetic resistance to fall armyworm in Africa. This included screening over 3,500 hybrids in 2018 and 2019.

Responses of CIMMYT-derived fall armyworm tolerant hybrids versus susceptible commercial checks at the vegetative stage (A & B) and at reproductive stage (C & D), respectively, after fall armyworm artificial infestation under “no choice” trial in screenhouses at Kiboko, Kenya. Note the difference in the harvest of a FAWTH hybrid (E) versus one of the commercial susceptible hybrid checks (F), besides the extent of damage caused by fall armyworm to the ears of the susceptible check (visible as blackish spots with no grains in the ears).

A global response

Armed with evidence generated by MAIZE and partners, the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) briefed the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on a project in collaboration with CIMMYT and partners to deploy a safe, environmentally friendly biopesticide to manage the fall armyworm in South Sudan. Over 500 smallholder farmers reported yield increases of up to 63% – worth $609/ha – from using the biopesticide Fawligen.

The year 2020 also saw the launch of a new Fall Armyworm Research Collaboration Portal to facilitate global research collaboration to help fight the devastating crop pest. Developed by CABI in partnership with leading researchers and institutions, including CIMMYT, the portal is a free-to-access platform that enables the sharing of research data, insights and outputs, and includes a range of key features such as posting research updates, identifying collaborators, and posting questions to the community.

The portal will encourage rapid, iterative experimentation and global teamwork to address the spread and impact of the invasive crop pest.

Funders for this work include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BGMF), the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), CGIAR, the Crop Breeding Institute, the Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS) of the Netherlands, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KALRO), University of the Free State in South Africa, University of Zimbabwe, the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and others.

Photo: A fall armyworm curls up among the debris of the maize plant it has just eaten at CIMMYT’s fall armyworm screenhouse in Kiboko, Kenya (Jennifer Johnson/CIMMYT).

Insights on gender norms pave way for more equitable farming

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), on average, women represent 43% of the labor force in low and middle-income countries. Despite their significant contributions to agriculture, women tend to have less access to agricultural resources and technologies than men. One major reason for this is gender and social norms which often inhibit women’s equality and progress.

Through the GENNOVATE (Enabling Gender Equality in Agricultural and Environmental Innovation) initiative, which is supported by the CGIAR Research Programs on Maize and Wheat, CGIAR scientists engaged over 7,500 women and men from 137 agricultural communities in 26 countries across the Global South. The initiative has made huge progress in helping development practitioners understand the dynamics of gender norms, power relations, labor-use, and processes for decision-making in access to and control of resources.

In 2020, in a MAIZE-funded study, researchers from lead center CIMMYT built on GENNOVATE findings to explore how women in Nigeria negotiated power dynamics to access improved maize varieties and expand their influence on decision-making.

In India, a provocative study, funded by WHEAT, challenged stereotypes of men being the sole decision makers in wheat-based farming systems. Using data collected from 12 communities across four Indian states, the authors shed new light on how women are gradually innovating and influencing decision-making on wheat farms.

The team developed a typology of six strategies – ranging from from quiet co-performing to women managing and deciding – that women adopt to actively take part in decision-making. The new typology will allow researchers and development partners to better understand empowerment dynamics and women’s agency in agriculture.

Reducing poverty through gender equality

In Nepal, as part of the Cereal System Initiatives for South Asia (CSISA) project, CIMMYT researchers provided policy recommendations to governments after identifying significant gender gaps in the adoption of agricultural technologies. The authors estimated that when given similar access to production resources, women have a higher probability of adopting mini tillers, which means higher farm yields and profits.

The evidence generated by GENNOVATE and CSISA experts and expanded on by MAIZE, WHEAT and CGIAR partners highlights the necessity of understanding the complex nature of women’s empowerment when introducing new agricultural technologies.

Despite making up less than half of the labor force, women are responsible for 60-80% of food production in low- and middle-income countries. Often, official statistics ignore unpaid work – whether in the field, at a home garden or preparing food in the household – thus misrepresenting women’s real contribution to agricultural work and production.

According to the FAO, if the world’s women farmers had the same access to resources and agricultural financing as men, 150 million people could be lifted out of poverty.

Direct seeding maize with push row planter in Ramghat, Surkhet, Nepal 2016. (Photo: CIMMYT/P. Lowe)

GENNOVATE is funded by the CGIAR Trust Fund Donors, the CGIAR Gender and Agricultural Research Network, the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), and the governments of Germany and Mexico. The CSISA study was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and BMGF.

Photo: Women winnowing maize in Rambasti, Kanchanpur, Nepal (CIMMYT/P. Lowe).

Stress-tolerant maize gives farmers a lifeline during the climate emergency

In 2020, African smallholder farmers experienced the second hottest year on record, while prolonged droughts and violent floods threatened the livelihoods of millions.

Experts project that by the 2030s, a lack of rainfall and rising temperatures could render 40% of Africa’s maize-growing area unsuitable for the climate-vulnerable varieties currently grown by farmers. This is a devastating blow to food security, given that maize is the preferred and affordable staple food for millions of Africans who survive on less than a few dollars a day.

Through projects like Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA), Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA), and now Accelerating Genetic Gains in Maize and Wheat for Improved Livelihoods (AGG), MAIZE and partner scientists have been developing a multitude of improved stress-tolerant maize lines which have proven to be a lifeline for farmers in low- and middle-income countries facing climate-related stresses.

Elite drought-tolerant maize varieties developed by MAIZE lead center CIMMYT, in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), have both increased yields in drought-stressed crop seasons in sub-Saharan Africa and offered much needed yield stability. For smallholder farmers, this means better crop performance in good and bad years. According to MAIZE Director B.M Prasanna, drought-tolerant maize varieties developed by CIMMYT and IITA have at least 25-30% grain yield advantage over non-drought-tolerant maize varieties in sub-Saharan Africa under drought stress at flowering.

Throughout DTMA’s 10-year lifetime, over 200 drought-tolerant maize hybrids and open-pollinated varieties were released in sub-Saharan Africa, benefitting 5.4 million households. Under the STMA initiative, which ended in 2020, researchers deployed over 100 stress-tolerant improved maize varieties, benefitting over 8 million households.

High-yielding, multiple stress-tolerant, maize varieties using CIMMYT/IITA maize germplasm released after 2007 (the year the DTMA project was started) are estimated to be grown on 5 million hectares in sub-Saharan Africa, as of 2020. The adoption of drought-tolerant maize varieties helped lift millions of people above the poverty line across the continent.

For example, in Kenya, farmers are harvesting 20 to 30% more grain with the new maize varieties than without them. This has a cascading effect on livelihoods—improving the nutritional intake of the community, helping children return to school, and reducing poverty.

Tanzanian farmer Mariamu Hemedi holds drought tolerant maize cob. (Photo: F. Sipalla/CIMMYT)

Decades of impact

A review of two decades of work led by the two CGIAR centers CIMMYT and IITA on improved maize for Africa reported that between 1995-2015, nearly 60% of all maize varieties released in 18 African countries were CGIAR-related. At the end of this period, in 2015, almost half of the maize area in these countries grew CGIAR-related maize varieties. All this was accomplished through a modest, maximum yearly investment of about $30 million, which showed high returns: in 2015, the aggregate yearly economic benefits for using CGIAR-related maize varieties released after 1994 were estimated to be between $660 million and $1.05 billion.

African farmers need to adapt quickly to the impacts of climate change. High-yielding, stress-tolerant maize varieties are an essential tool to mitigate and adapt to rising temperatures, prolonged droughts and devastating floods, and to ensure food security for the regions’ 1.1 billion inhabitants.

The STMA project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by CIMMYT and IITA.

Photo: Rashid Said Mpinga, a farmer in Tanzania’s Morogoro District, holds up ears of an improved, drought-tolerant maize variety (Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT).

Financial Summary

*Including 2019 carryover, 2020 budget at $8.5 million

MAIZE greatly appreciates the contributions of all Window 1 and Window 2 funding partners for their support during Phase I through the CGIAR Fund. Without these donors MAIZE work in Phase I (2012-2016) and Phase II (2017-2022 ongoing) would not have been possible.

The CGIAR Research Program on MAIZE (MAIZE) is an international collaboration between more than 300 partners that seeks to mobilize global resources in maize research and development to achieve a greater strategic impact on maize-based farming systems in Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

Led by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) as its main CGIAR partner, MAIZE focuses on increasing maize production for the 900 million poor consumers for whom maize is a staple food in Africa, South Asia and Latin America. MAIZE’s overarching goal is to double maize productivity and increase incomes and livelihood opportunities from sustainable maize-based farming systems.


Writers/Editors: Alison Doody, Marcia MacNeil, Steven M. and B.M. Prasanna.

Contributors: Lone Badstue, Yoseph Beyene, Anani Bruce, Olaf Erenstein, Cathy Rozel Farnworth, Macdonald Bright Jumbo, Martin Kropff, Victor Kommerell, Vijesh V. Krishna, Dan Makumbi, Emma Orchardson, Kevin Pixley, B. M. Prasanna and Claudia Velasco.

Photos: Alfonso Cortés, J. Cumes, F. Sipalla, Jennifer Johnson, Peter Lowe and Anne Wangalachi.

Infographics and maps: Alison Doody and Marcelo Ortiz

Spark production: Alison Doody