By Alex Abutu
Nigeria is a major maize consuming nation as all sections of the country utilize it as a major source of food for human consumption, animal feed, and industrial raw materials. Currently, Nigeria is the 14th largest producer of maize in the world, with a total production volume of 12.1 million tons in 2019, representing about 3 per cent of global production.
The Government has over the years been involved in various initiatives targeted at scaling up production including importing maize to meet the national deficit. Through the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of the Ahmadu Bello University, Nigerian researchers have developed and released over 50 varieties of maize adopted to all the Nigerian agro-ecologies.
Despite these key achievements by the IAR maize breeding program, maize farmers continue to face both biological (biotic) and non-biological (abiotic) production challenges such as drought and insect pests. In 2019, the TELA maize project expanded into Nigeria, presenting a unique opportunity for Nigeria’s scientists, researchers, and farmers to benefit from transgenic drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties. In addition to Nigeria, the TELA Maize Project is working with governments in six other African countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda – to deliver the new TELA® maize varieties to farmers.
The TELA Maize Project is a public-private partnership that is coordinated by AATF, a non-profit organization that facilitates public-private partnerships for access and delivery of appropriate technologies to farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. It started on the continent in 2018 and builds on 10 years of excellent conventional breeding work on the WEMA Project that was formed in 2008 in response to a growing call by African farmers, leaders, and scientists to address the devastating effects of drought. The project is working towards the commercialization of transgenic drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties to enhance food security in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to a 2019 Agricultural Performance Survey, maize is grown across the 36 states in Nigeria, with Kaduna, Niger, Gombe and Plateau states leading production in 2018. Maize is also the most cultivated crop in Nigeria, produced by almost 50% of farming households. Similar to many African countries, most of the farming households are smallholder farmers, who produce a substantial percentage of the food consumed by Nigerians.
Despite the high production volume, maize production in Nigeria is characterized by low productivity. Between the year 2015 and 2018, the average yield in Nigeria was 1.75 tons/ha compared to 7.64 tons/ha in Egypt and 4.89 tons/ha in South Africa which are among the leading maize producers in Africa. Although the cultivated area for maize is over 6 million hectares, Nigeria is still unable to meet the domestic demand for maize, estimated at 15 – 18 million tons annually, and relies on maize imports to cover part of this shortfall.
Data from the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that less than 10 per cent of maize produced in the country in 2019 is under irrigation, further limiting the productivity of maize, especially in the northern edges of the Sudan and Sahel regions.
Succor may be on the way for maize farmers in this region and the entire country as the results from the on-going TELA maize confined field trials continue to demonstrate tolerance to drought conditions and resistance from the devastating fall armyworm, and stem borers insect pests.
Professor Rabiu Adamu, Principal Investigator of the TELA Maize Project in Nigeria and an Entomologist at the IAR, said: “TELA maize from the trials have proven to be drought tolerant, resistant against stem borers, and offers protection against fall armyworm (FAW); therefore, TELA maize varieties will significantly improve economic savings for farmers as they will spend less money on procuring and using insecticides/pesticides besides the benefit to the environment and human health occasioned by less exposure to harmful chemicals.
With TELA maize, he said, farmers will enjoy higher returns and premium prices from their maize products stemming from improved yields and better grain quality. A more reliable harvest will give farmers additional confidence to invest in their farms and improve their farming practices.
“Preliminary findings indicated that under stem borer and fall armyworm infestation, the insect protected and drought tolerant TELA© Maize gave over two tons yield advantage relative to the best varieties currently being grown by farmers in the country.
As Nigeria works to address the challenges affecting maize production in the country, it is believed that the TELA maize technology, which has performed extremely well in South Africa and other countries, will contribute significantly to increasing production in the country. Farmers will be pleased because it will reduce their production costs and ensure they stay healthy from toxic chemicals.
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