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New technology develops high quality hybrid maize seed

Maize seed production is set to be revolutionized in the country following seven-year research in collaboration with the Seed Production Technology for Africa ( SPTA)

The technology which involved key players developed a high-quality hybrid seed varieties with improved yields that may turn around the fortunes of farmers at a lower production cost of goods and complexity of producing the seed.

The development of the Seed Production Technology for Africa( SPTA) has been as a result of collaboration  between various research institutions and utilizes naturally occurring maize gene called Ms44 that eliminates the need for detasseling during both steps of three-way hybrid maize seed production.

The SPTA Technology was a collaboration of Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and partners Corteva Agriscience, the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa (ARC), Qualibasic Seed (QBS) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) are the ones behind the technology.

Poor seed has been found to reduce food security with a significant portion of smallholders farmers in Kenya having limited access to affordable improved hybrid maize seed, due in part to challenges faced by seed production.

Seed companies globally prioritize traits that increase yields and improve tolerance to climate and weather risks through maize breeding and hybrid seed production. Studies confirm that farmers prefer hybrids over comparable open pollinated varieties because they perform better.

 

KALRO DG Eliud Kireger explaining about the SPTA technology to journalists.

Detasseling is the process of removing tassels from the top of the maize plant in order to deter self-pollination that may lead to inbreeding.

Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Director General Eliud Kireger said Currently, seed producers and companies in Africa, including Kenya, prevent self-fertilization by manual detasseling, a time-sensitive process, which involves removing the pollen-producing tassels from the seed-bearing maize plants

“ This process of Detasseling is a labor intensive, complex and time-consuming process which, if not done well, can lead to self-pollination that can contaminate the hybrid product and reduce the final yield potential of commercial certified seed”, he explained.

He noted that through extensive research  undertaken at KALRO research centres of Kiboko, Embu, Kakamega and Kitale and on-farm trials with farmers in Embu, Kirinyaga, Kakamega, Busia and Bungoma., the benefits of SPTA to farmers includes assured seed quality and higher yields in low yielding environments.

“This technology or the product that we have as demonstrated today, one can tell the  the  seed to be produced does very well, it’s early maturing, so it can escape drought. Also, it does very well in conditions or environments with low nitrogen. Therefore, farmers don’t have to use a lot of CN to be able to increase their yield. So those are the qualities”, Dr. Kireger said .

Extensive on-farm testing in Kenya and Zimbabwe , he explained  has showed FNP hybrids  that has the high potential to increase maize yields produce an additional 200 kg ha -by conserving resources for grain production

The technology ,the DG said  is set to cut the cost  by 40 percent and cut the cost of production for seed producers by Ksh 40,000 which they normally incur in detasseling ,

The preliminary engagement with seed producers in the country, Dr. Kireger said showed there is great interest since the technology fits and simplifies existing production systems of most seed companies.

He explained that small seed companies find it hard to meet the cost of detasseling and that impacts on availability. With the technology now they will be able to afford and manage production cost but also the competition will see prices of  the hybrid seed will go down

“The technology will be available royalty free for small and medium sized seed companies and KALRO appreciates the collaborative effort by different stakeholders demonstrated in this project and will continue to seek for solutions to the myriad of issues facing Kenyan farmers

He said that currently there are four hybrid varieties through the technology which are ready for release and that once they undergo the whole process, it should be available to farmers in the next one year.

Boniface Juma, a research scientists and plant genetics at KALRO explaining how the technology works

Boniface Juma, a research scientists and plant genetics at KALRO explained that technology, is that it is actually trying to take advantage of the genes that are actually readily available in maize.

“There are some genes that are in maize that are expressed and some are actually under-expressed. Some are actually over-expressed and some are under-expressed so we are trying to take advantage of that and so that we attenuate the expression of this gene, the MS44 gene”, he said .

Hybrid maize produced using SPTA segregates 1:1 for pollen producing and non-pollen producing plants and is referred to as 50% non-pollen producing (FNP).

Following confirmatory National Performance Trials (NPT) in 2022 by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), three (3) FNP hybrids (CHKM21W002, CHKM21W003 and CHKE21W001) which are adapted to low soil fertility conditions have been recommended for release.

In addition, two (2) other FNP hybrids (CHKM21W001 and CKDHH15008FNP) are in the second year of testing in the National Performance Trials.

By Wangari Ndirangu

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