East African agricultural scientists have released 10 lines of conventionally bred, drought tolerant maize varieties in response to shifting weather patterns in the region.
Four drought tolerant maize varieties have been released in Uganda, three in Kenya while three are in the final stages for release in Tanzania.
The development of the drought tolerant maize varieties, whose research started in 2007, was carried out in collaboration with the African Agricultural Technology Foundation under the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa Project.
Godfrey Asea, cereals programme team leader at Uganda’s National Crop Resources Institute told The EastAfrican that distribution of the drought resistant varieties to farmers will start in July 2014.
“The maize we have developed performs well in both dry and rainfall environments. They are also resistant to pests and diseases,” Dr Asea said.
He said the new maize varieties — UH5354, UH 5355, WE 2114 and WE 2115 — are currently under multiplication by Nalweyo Seed Company and Farm Inputs Care Centre Ltd.
Drought has become a serious threat to maize production across the region due to changing weather patterns induced by climate change.
Scientists from the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research under its programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security say temperatures in East Africa are likely to increase by 1.3 degrees Celsius to 2.1 degrees Celsius between now and 2050.
This implies that crop productivity in the region could suffer given the heavy dependence on rain fed agriculture.
Dr Francis Nang’ayo, regulatory affairs manager AATF, which operates in 10 African countries, said the organisations in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute has already released one variety in Kenya and another two are in the pipeline for release.
“The varieties are in the final stages before the evaluation committee and will be released to farmers soon,” Dr Nang’ayo said.
In Tanzania, the national variety committee has requested the national seed committee’s approval for the three newly developed drought tolerant maize varieties for release to farmers.
The scientists are also carrying out confined field trials on transgenic drought-resistant maize in Uganda and Kenya, which is expected to be commercialised in 2017 after regulatory approvals.
According to data from Kilimo Trust, with three to four million tonnes annually, Tanzania leads in maize production in the region, followed by Kenya whose production averages 2.7 million tonnes a year.
Uganda follows with 2.4 million tonnes, but unlike Kenya whose production is 300 tonnes below consumption; Uganda enjoys a surplus because of its low dependence on maize for food.
This has given it leeway to export most of its maize to Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.