Effort to Boost Global Maize Supply Gets $170m Injection
Maize is a staple food for nearly a billion people worldwide today. Demand is expected to double by 2050 as world population tops nine billion and the need for livestock feed also increases.
At the same time, maize farmers are facing a number of serious challenges according to CIMMYT chief Tomas Lumpkin.
"We have climate change. We have energy prices. We have water depletion. We have rapidly rising fertilizer prices that are pushing down our ability to produce food."
Lumpkin says the new maize research initiative includes developing new tools so farmers can make more efficient use of fertilizer. And it will also help adapt the grain itself to the higher temperatures and more frequent droughts and floods expected with climate change while fortifying it against increased pressures from weeds, pests and diseases.
Massive maize collection
CIMMYT holds a collection of some 27,000 varieties of maize at its headquarters in Mexico, where the crop was first domesticated. The initiative aims to identify valuable genetic traits buried in the DNA sequence of all those varieties. Lumpkin says Mexico is a major donor to that effort.
"Mexico is very proud that they have given maize to the world. Now, Mexico wants to give the world the DNA sequence of maize."
Iowa State University maize researcher Roger Elmore, is not involved in the project, but he praises its comprehensive approach and the impressive level of funding. "You know one hundred and seventy million dollars would go a long way toward improving things here and probably a lot further in the developing world."
Small investments, big gains
Elmore says it often does not take much money to improve yields. He worked in Haiti a few years ago, where he helped farmers more than double their yeald using small improvements.
"You're talking two tons per hectare to five tons increasing yeald with just some fertilizer, more plants per area, and just better management. Two to five tons. It's just information and a little bit of technology. That's all it took."
The CIMMYT initiative aims to benefit 40 million small-holder farm families in the developing world by 2020.
But the benefits of research will be felt around the world, according to Lloyd Le Page, head of CIMMYT's parent organization, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.
"Let's face it, food is a global issue, whether we're talking about Iowa farmers or whether we're talking about farmers in Africa."
Le Page research into improving yields under hotter temperatures will help maize farmers almost everywhere. And as climate changes, pests and diseases expand into new territories, including parts of the semi-tropical developed world, that means farmers in wealthy countries will find research into warding them off to be very useful.