Maize (known as 'corn' in the USA) requires wetter conditions than are typical in most dryland areas. However it is an important food across Africa and a good market opportunity for dryland farmers located along the transition zone to wetter areas.
Breeding research is making significant advances in increasing the drought tolerance of maize, particularly by reducing the anthesis-silking interval so that more seeds are able to successfully pollinate despite drought stress (Bänziger et al. 2000).
The new varieties have shown an impressive 30-50% yield advantage over previously-grown varieties under drought stress conditions in southern Africa. This will reduce farmers' risk significantly.
More than 50 development agencies are accelerating the testing and distribution of the new varieties. By early 2004 they were being grown on an estimated 250,000 hectares in southern Africa and 32,000 hectares in eastern Africa.
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Bänziger, M., Mugo, S., and Edmeades, G.O. 2000. Breeding for drought tolerance in tropical maize - conventional approaches and challenges to molecular approaches. Pp. 69-72 in Ribaut, J.-M. and Poland, D. (eds.), Molecular Approaches for the Genetic Improvement of Cereals for Stable Production in Water-Limited Environments. A Strategic Planning Workshop held at CIMMYT, El Batan, Mexico, 21-25 June 1999. Mexico D.F.: CIMMYT.