Maize initiative in Southern Africa

Project completed

The "New Seed Initiative for Maize in Southern Africa" (NSIMA) was launched for the purpose of conducting research into drought-tolerant maize varieties that can generate bigger harvests than conventional varieties, even in less fertile soil. The ultimate aim is to achieve greater food security. At the same time, NSIMA activities involve cooperation with government and private-sector stakeholders in the maize sector to encourage seed production and trade (also for small-scale producers).

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Southern African Development Community (SADC)
Agriculture & food security
Agricultural research
Agricultural development
01.01.2011 - 30.09.2015
CHF 2'920'000

Maize is one of the main staple foods in Southern Africa. 70% of the population covers its food requirements with maize. Maize is also an important source of income. In all, 9 to 12 million hectares of maize are planted in this region. However, droughts and poor soil often result in crop loss or even crop failure. Since 1996, NSIMA has been developing maize varieties that are drought-tolerant and resist certain diseases and adequately grow in nutrient-depleted soil. In the last few years, about 100 new varieties of maize have been put on the market. More than two million family operations use these new varieties and have been able to triple their crop yields.

Access to seed
Nevertheless, more than half of the land used for maize is still planted with varieties that are both low-yielding and vulnerable to environmental stress. A study has shown that through the use of selectively bred varieties, maize yields would increase by up to a third. The NSIMA is designed to give poor farmers access to seeds that are drought-tolerant and resist certain diseases and have a certain tolerance to nutrient depletion. This increases food security and creates potential income for smallholder farmers.

The new maize varieties are the result of hybridisation of different seed varieties in the seed bank maintained by the CIMMYT (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo, in Mexico). Every year, researchers located throughout the Southern African Development Community (SADC) distribute between 30 and 40 improved maize varieties whose yields and cultivation characteristics are then field-tested in cooperation with local farmers.

Most farmers favour so-called "Open Pollinated Varieties" (OPVs). Unlike hybrid seeds. OPV seed (Open Pollinated Varieties) can be stored and sown for a number of years without yields significantly dropping off. While hybrid seeds achieve a higher yield in the first year, the harvest is considerably smaller the year after if farmers attempt to use seeds derived from the first harvest. This forces farmers to buy fresh hybrid seeds every year in order to maintain high crop yields.

The NSIMA involves close cooperation with various maize sector stakeholders, such as government institutions in SADC countries, NGOs and private seed producers.

Greater food security
At present, drought-tolerant maize varieties developed through NSIMA activities are being grown on over one million hectares of land. This has resulted in improved food security and a higher income for the farmers from the sale of crop surpluses. Up to 40 million people will be able to improve their life situations.

Most NSIMA teams distribute the newly developed maize varieties. New local seed businesses have sprung up, which has helped to generate local jobs and income. Regional cooperation between national research institutes and private seed producers has not only led to better exchanges of seeds and plants in Southern Africa. It has also made a major contribution to a sustainable maize market.

Links between NSIMA and other SDC-funded activities:

  • The SDC provides substantial untied funding to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which sponsors the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico.
  • The SDC provides funding to the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which aims to preserve the worldwide diversity of key crop varieties in gene banks.
  • The SDC provides funding to the SADC's Seed Security Network, which seeks to improve seed production and supply to ensure greater food security in Southern Africa.