The news of the climate change gloom that has the world overcast needs to be taken with a pinch or a grain of salt. I say this with a sense of patriotism to the human race which has overcome so much drudgery that Mother Nature had thrown its way since it began its evolutionary journey to today’s future and is still standing. Together, for example, we refined maize or corn from its original wild ancestor called “Teosinte” possessing barely two kernels per cob to a crop that feeds hundreds of millions of people and is also transformed into livestock feed for our domestic animals.
This crop is presently engaged in a fight to save the human race from the vagaries of nature especially from the erratic pattern of unpredictable rainfall and changes in insect vector and disease populations that come with these irregularities. As a member of the human race, I hope to empower maize with extra features that it needs to win this fight and to continue its loyal service to man in this century and beyond.
My project is currently on enhancing the durability status of the maize crop against maize streak disease in order to enable it resist the damaging effect of the causal agent, the maize streak virus (MSV) transmitted by a type of plant leafhopper belonging to the Cicadulina Genus in the animal kingdom. This virus thrives in epidemic years when drought or irregular rains manifest just as is presently being experienced all over the African continent and beyond and it causes yield losses of 70% and above. The maize crop is also a tool to fight the present micronutrient deficiency pandemic affecting millions of pregnant women and children, most especially the vitamin A deficiency (VAD), alongside minimizing the health burden from aflatoxin contamination plaguing maize consumers in sub-Saharan Africa with poor access to standard phytosanitary handling of maize products.
I am working on developing maize varieties that are adapted to different agro-ecological zones representative of sub-Saharan Africa (that is. drought-tolerant) and have high resistance to MSV with increased levels of provitamin A and high resistance to aflatoxin. These varieties are ideal like a four-prong fork to cure a multifaceted dilemma in the African agricultural and food systems. Breeding for drought tolerance and disease resistance while targeting economic traits that enhance the health and social wellbeing of resource-poor smallholding communities is of paramount importance in sustainable crop protection since the alternative including use of chemical pesticides and the drudgery of crop rotations and intercropping are respectively environmentally-unfriendly and time-taking/unappealing.
I have begun by gathering the maize parental lines from two international institutes called CIMMYT and IITA. I intend to use these parents to generate offsprings after a number of mating for some time and to replicate this at different locations and environments in order to take into account the influence of the climate on the performance of the offsprings. Finally, I will ascertain the super varietal lines that carry the presence of all my target genes by using some biotechnological tools called molecular markers and select such for onward certification and release to farmers. The major processes should be in one to two years.
The super varietal maize lines that I will select for proposed release will be the lines that performed excellently well in particular environments and locations in terms of higher yields, increased concentration of provitamin A, tolerates various extents of drought or erratic rainfall patterns, are resistant to aflatoxin contamination and above all, are highly resistant to the maize streak disease. These qualities will ensure increase income from maize fields per hectare for rural growers who depend mostly on rain-fed agriculture and reduce exposure to preventable maternal and birth mortality and infant deaths due to related illness in the absence of this essential micronutrients. I am extremely passionate about this work since it reaches so close to the grassroots in our communities in Africa and it is a work geared directly to developing improved varieties for eradicating hunger and “hidden hunger” in terms of disease prevalence in man and his crop.
Mary Emeraghi, Nigeria