Stress tolerant maize adoption provides proven benefits to farming families

As weather patterns become more erratic and drought becomes more frequent in sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farmers need improved drought-tolerant seed varieties to ensure a better harvest. According to the World Food Program, parts of southern Africa experienced the worst drought in 35 years in 2019, threatening the food security of millions of people. The Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project works to help farmers in 13 target countries mitigate the combined effects of multiple stresses such as drought, heat, poor soil fertility, and diseases that affect maize production and farming, to improve food security and smallholders’ livelihoods across sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2019 STMA continued to work to ensure that farmers in target countries could access improved, drought-tolerant maize seeds. Over 87,000 metric tons of certified seed of stress-tolerant maize varieties were commercialized in 2019, benefiting 6.73 million rural households. Product profile workshops were held to ensure that maize variety traits correspond to the needs of farmers and seed companies, in order to replace leading old varieties on the market with improved stress-tolerant varieties. Bill Gates recognized MAIZE lead center CIMMYT in 2019 in a GatesNotes blog and video for this work developing stress- and drought-tolerant maize for smallholder farmers.

While drought- and stress-tolerant maize varieties have huge potential to improve food security and livelihoods for smallholder farmers, adoption is key. Maize research and adoption studies in 2019 found strong benefits to drought-tolerant maize adoption in the STMA target countries. In Zambia a recent study revealed that adoption of drought-tolerant maize can increase farmers yields by 15 percent and reduce yield variability by 38 percent, showing the benefits of adoption to enhance productivity and reduce risk. In Malawi researchers found that drought-tolerant (DT) maize adoption has increased from 3 to 43 percent between 2006 and 2015, and that farmers who had previously been exposed to drought were more likely to adopt DT maize seed.

In Uganda studies found that adoption of DT maize varieties increased yield by 15 percent and reduced the probability of crop failure by 30 percent, while a study conducted in northern Ghana found that adoption of drought-tolerant maize varieties led to yield increases of more than 150 percent (936kg/ha) in farm households. Farmers' access to seed, extension services and labor as well as the location of farm households were the primary drivers of adoption of the drought-tolerant maize varieties.

Researchers also investigated adoption and net benefits in Nigeria, finding a remarkable increase in the adoption of short-season maize varieties compared to the baseline. The adoption of the short-season maize varieties had significant productivity- and income-increasing effects. A further study on the distributional impacts of adoption of drought-tolerant maize varieties on the productivity and welfare outcomes of rural farming households in Nigeria found that farming households with low yields benefit the most from adoption, and that adoption can have an outsize impact on poorer farming families. Overall, the study found drought-tolerant maize varieties effective in improving farming families' yield, productivity and welfare.