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WEMA and IMAS: Developing products to manage the effect of climate change

May 2013


Maize is the staple food crop and mainstay of rural diets in South Africa. The country produces surplus maize every year, but about 14 million people are food insecure. This highlights the need to improve food self-sufficiency at the household level.

South Africa is generally not suitable for crop production. Only about 13% of the country is arable due to low rainfall and poor soils. Maize yields obtained by large-scale commercial producers and smallholder farmers for rain-fed crops are only about 5 ton/ha and 1 ton/ha, respectively.

This is mainly because, on the one hand, large-scale commercial producers grow their rain-fed maize crops at very low plant populations to avoid moisture stress. On the other hand, smallholder farmers get very low yields because they apply very little fertiliser and their crops are often subjected to moisture stress during periodic droughts.

Only about 10% of the maize crop in South Africa is grown under irrigation because of limited water resources. Climate change is predicted to worsen the situation with more variable rainfall and above average temperatures.

Identifying ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change are fundamental to realising food security and improved livelihoods in South Africa and the rest of the continent. To address these challenges, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) is participating in public-private partnerships called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) and Improved Maize for African Soils (IMAS).

WEMA and IMAS products will be low-cost, drought tolerant and/or low nitrogen tolerant single-cross and three-way conventional and transgenic hybrids that give at least 25% yield advantage under moderate drought and/or low nitrogen conditions. The hybrids are currently being developed using a range of approaches including conventional plant breeding, an advanced breeding technique called marker assisted breeding, and transgenic approaches which are sometimes referred to as genetic modification (GM technology).

Information on these projects and biotechnology will be provided at this year’s Grain SA NAMPO Harvest Day.

The 2013 Maize Information Guide (MIG) will be available at the ARC-Grain Crops Institute’s (GCI) stand in the Microbial Solutions Hall. Come and get your free copy here.

Publication: May 2013

Section: Other Articles