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Climate change: DFID wins award for maize project

The Department for International Development has won Best Technological Breakthrough at the Climate Week Awards for a project to develop drought-tolerant maize in Africa.

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Developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and supported by UK aid and other donors, the new kind of maize needs far less water in the soil than normal maize. As well as growing it year round, it also means the maize can withstand times of severe drought.

The Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell said:

“I am delighted that UK-backed research into maize has won.

“Support from DFID has helped give farmers across 13 African countries 34 different drought tolerant maize varieties. More than 2 million smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are growing the new varieties and have experienced the benefits firsthand.

“Experts predict that natural disasters such as floods will increase, destroying crops and livelihoods. This and other projects have the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty and prevent the extreme hunger caused when rising temperatures and prolonged drought cause crops to fail.

“Last year’s famine in Africa showed the horrendous human cost that droughts can cause. Thanks to British taxpayers, farmers in the world’s poorest countries can adapt to a changing climate and ensure their communities are fed.”

Climate Week starts today

The Climate Week Awards, held in London today, celebrate the UK’s most effective and ambitious organisations, communities and individuals and their efforts to combat climate change.

Climate Week is an annual campaign aimed at highlighting and inspiring innovative ideas to combat climate change. Thousands of businesses, charities, schools, councils and others will run events during the week, showing what can be achieved, sharing ideas and encouraging thousands more to act during the rest of the year.

Drought-tolerant maize for Africa

In a continent where maize is the staple crop for over 300 million people this development is invaluable. In 2011 alone, more than 12.5 million people suffered the effects of drought and resulting famines in the Horn of Africa, with the drought being termed the worst in 60 years. As temperatures rise there is an urgent need to grow maize that is able to thrive on less water.

Experts have shown that production of drought-tolerant crops are not only beneficial for managing current and future risks of drought, but are also critical to Africa’s ability to feed itself. This programme uses conventional breeding, where varieties with good drought tolerance characteristics are cross-bred to get final products which are both productive and nutritious, will grow well in African conditions and are drought-tolerant.

More than 2 million smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are growing the new varieties and have experienced the benefits first hand. “This maize is like an insurance against hunger and total crop failure, even under hot, dry conditions like those of recent years”, says 79-year-old Rashid Said Mpinga, a maize farmer in Morogoro, Tanzania who has been growing maize for almost half a century. “Without good quality maize seed, you cannot earn enough, you cannot have life.”

The project, also funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to reach 40 million people across Africa with over 80 varieties of the maize by 2016.

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Published 12 March 2012