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Research team aim to ensure maize crop stability in southern Africa

Research team aim to ensure maize crop stability in southern Africa
Maize crop
"This work could benefit nutrient use efficiency through cultivar selection/breeding and soil organic matter management, and help ensure maize yield stability, resilience to low nutrient availability and, in turn, improve food security within the region"

Maize is the most important cereal crop in southern Africa but without new management practices and with the increased risk of drought, yields which are already low are predicted to further decline. It is therefore critical that new approaches are developed to ensure food security and help alleviate poverty of smallholder farmers.

A research project, funded by BBSRC through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), aims to explore interactions between the crops genetic make-up (genotype), soil microorganisms and the processes they undertake. The project hopes to discover a viable approach to introduce future maize breeding programmes in southern Africa to help ensure yield stability.

To achieve this the research team first needed to understand how these crops interact with the soil. Dr Eric Paterson of the James Hutton Institute and Dr Lumbani Mwafulirwa, of the Institute and University of Edinburgh, were part of a group that visited Zimbabwe. The UK team, which also included Professor Liz Baggs of the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security at the University of Edinburgh, interacted with their in-country partners, visited field trial sites and engaged with farmers, extension workers and other local scientists.

The team gave seminar presentations at an event co-organised by the Zimbabwe Plant Breeders Association (ZPBA), University of Zimbabwe Crop Science Department and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, Zimbabwe), with participants drawn from local universities, maize seed companies and CIMMYT among other institutions/companies.

Dr Lumbani said: “We have been investigating the extent of variation within maize germplasm (over 100 varieties/lines) relevant to cultivation in southern Africa, with respect to shaping root-associated microbial communities and impacts on soil functions underpinning productivity. We have quantified the impacts of maize cultivars on soil carbon and nutrient cycling processes, and how the cultivars interact with agricultural management and the environment.

This work could benefit nutrient use efficiency through cultivar selection/breeding and soil organic matter management, and help ensure maize yield stability, resilience to low nutrient availability and, in turn, improve food security within the region. Thus, our engagement with ZPBA and seed companies is a key impact pathway”

By working closely with CIMMYT and other local organisations, the project hopes to maximise the likelihood of positive discoveries from their research being taken forward into future maize breeding programs. In turn increasing the possibility of new maize varieties, or varieties proven to thrive in challenging environment being created.

Before this project, the potential for plant trait informed selection of genotypes especially for genotype microbiome interactions had not been tested in the field. Given the specific pressures of climate change, low income levels and food insecurity in southern Africa, the outcome of the project could prove vital.

More information from: 

Adam Walker, Communications Officer, James Hutton Institute, Tel: 01224 395095 (direct line), 0344 928 5428 (switchboard)


Printed from /news/research-team-aim-ensure-maize-crop-stability-southern-africa on 06/12/19 09:34:21 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.