AFRICA – Researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria  have discovered maize cultivars that offer a promising strategy to attain food security and safety of maize in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

According to IITA, nearly 30% of the calories consumed by more than 300 million people in SSA come from maize, and this number is predicted to rise.

The requirement for sustainable and safe production of maize grows along with demand, but this key crop in SSA is under threat from a variety of biotic and abiotic stresses.

Low soil fertility, drought, heat, and combined heat and drought are major abiotic constraints in the savannah regions of SSA.

Important biotic stresses include the parasitic witchweed and insect pests, especially stem borers, and, recently, the fall armyworm.

Other biotic stresses include diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses, and nematodes, resulting in yield and quality losses

In order to help smallholder farmers and boost the production of high-quality maize for food and feed, Faith Bankole and colleagues set out to find maize cultivars that could fend against several illnesses.

They screened more than 100 maize genotypes for resistance to foliar diseases and aflatoxin contamination using quick, efficient, and affordable laboratory techniques.

They discovered seven early-maturing (EM) and six extra-early (EEM) maize inbred lines with superior resistance to three major pathogens, as well as ten inbreds with resistance who also had significantly lower aflatoxin accumulation.

Extensive hybrid testing is being done on the EM and EEM inbreds with multiple disease resistance (MDR) that were found in this study.

Hybrids with strong agronomic traits, high yields, and MDR will be made available for commercialization.

Smallholder farmers who adopt these hybrids of maize can consistently produce higher, safer yields, say the researchers.

“Both EM and EEM maize germplasm have not been exploited as potential sources of resistance to multiple diseases.

“Our results demonstrate that these genotypes can significantly contribute to breeding programs to tackle multiple diseases, benefitting tropical and subtropical regions,” corresponding author Alejandro Ortega-Beltran commented.

The scientists claim that widespread deployment of these maize genotypes has the potential to improve safe maize output and productivity while decreasing losses brought on by aflatoxin contamination, thus improving human health and SSA’s standard of living.

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