Improved maize germplasm developed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and disseminated across Africa is improving livelihoods, and the impact on the continent is greater than earlier imagined, according to the President of the International Corn Foundation, Dr Soon Kwon Kim.
In a seminar organized by IITA West Africa Hub today entitled: “Promotion of IITA maize streak resistant (SR) varieties and Striga tolerant or resistant (STR) varieties to ten African countries with Korean Government Support,” Dr Kim reviewed the contribution of maize streak resistant varieties and Striga tolerant or resistant varieties across the continent.
Probably the most devastating disease that attacks maize in Africa, maize streak virus (MSV), leads to stunting, and farmers may lose 100 percent of the crop. Striga (a parasitic weed), on the other hand, attacks cereals and legumes and losses are in the neighborhood of US$8bn, endangering the livelihoods of millions of farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
Dr Kim who is currently also Chair-Professor, Handong Global University, Pohang, South Korea had worked at IITA at a time when MSV ravaged maize farms in sub Saharan Africa (SSA), and he was part of the team that developed the maize streak resistant varieties. The work earned IITA the first King Baudouin award. The team also made remarkable breakthroughs in developing Striga tolerant / resistant maize varieties.
Dr Kim noted that after the development of those varieties, IITA with funds from the Korea International Cooperation Agency , and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, promoted them in Bénin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Togo with the joint efforts of FAO-PASCON (Pan African Striga Control Network) and the Semi-Arid Food Grain Research and Development (SAFGRAD) project.
But beyond these countries, several other African countries have benefited from this work.
For example, Dr Kim recalled that Kenya’s maize that was ravaged by streak virus two / three years ago, recovered after germplasm from IITA resistant to the disease was introduced.
He called on IITA to do a more in-depth study that would put into perspective the contribution of IITA improved maize varieties across the continent.
Dr Kim also shared some thoughts on the way forward for Africa’s agriculture, stressing the need for sustainable intensification that would not abuse the natural resource endowment of the continent.
He lauded IITA’s research approach that integrates more than one trait in the breeding objective and also called on African governments to invest in IITA.
“If we adopt and use IITA’s approach to breeding, we will solve Africa’s problems… My suggestion has always been that IITA should be given the first consideration when it comes to funding in Africa,” he said.
Dr Sam Ajala commended Dr Kim for his work in helping the maize program in Africa in particular and global maize research in general, stressing that most of the high yielding maize varieties grown in the continent were built on past efforts/foundation laid by Dr Kim.
Though he left IITA 17 years ago, Dr Kim has kept touch with IITA and the Nigeria’s Maize Association.
The President of the Maize Association of Nigeria, Pastor O.A. Adenola, praised Dr Kim’s efforts and passion for improved livelihoods of farmers. He said the support to research given to maize by the government was partly because of Dr Kim’s advocacy for more attention to maize especially in Nigeria.