New maize hybrid shows resistance to stem borer in southern Africa | CIMMYT. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

New maize hybrid shows resistance to stem borer in southern Africa | CIMMYT. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

New maize hybrid shows resistance to stem borer in southern Africa | CIMMYT. International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center

Nontoko Mgudlwa, a small farmer who planted TELA maize for the first time since it was released in South Africa. Photo: B.Wawa / CIMMYT

Eastern Cape , South Africa (CIMMYT) - Small farmers in South Africa are now able to purchase and plant new transgenic resistance to stem borer, the most damaging pest of maize.

Collaborators of the Efficient Water for Africa (WEMA) project - a public-private plant breeding initiative that helps farmers to counteracting the effects of drought and stem borer infestation in Africa - generated genetically modified maize seed under the name "TELA", which was released and ceded, without royalties, to South African seed companies that sell it to farmers.

TELA (a word derived from the Latin Tutela, meaning "protection") contains a gene of the bacterium Bacillus thurigiensis (Bt) that helps maize to resist damage caused by important l stem, with which farmers get better yields. Five seed companies - Capstone, Jermat, Monsanto, SeedCo and Klein Karoo- are selling seed to small producers.

Senacyt Panam
Senacyt Panamá @senacyt

The WEMA project helps small farmers deal with two of their biggest problems, thanks to insect resistant and drought tolerant maize hybrids. WEMA partners with the public and private sectors, such as the International Center for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT), Monsanto and five national agricultural research organizations from Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology (AATF).

In Eastern and Southern Africa, two borers - Busseola fusca and Chilo partellus - are the most damaging pests. In South Africa, annual corn yield losses of between 10 and 75% are reported. The yield losses of maize and sorghum as a result of the Chilo partellus infestation are more than 50%.

During the last production cycle of 2016, Nontoko Mgudlwa was a of the small farmers selected to participate in a trial of the TELA maize hybrid.

"Our extension agent gave me a TELA packet and I planted it on this small plot on December 9, 2016." reports Mgudlwa. "There is not enough space on the plot to also sow my native corn, but I am happy to see that the hybrid is growing well, even though the plants on the edges can see the havoc caused by stem borers, continues Mgudlwa, and points to severely damaged plants that were planted with seed as a control group along with TELA.

TELA corn (left) on the Mgudlwa farm showed good resistance to infestation of stem borer, whereas the plants of the shelter of non-TELA maize in the same farm show the typical perforations that the borer makes when feeding. Photo: B.Wawa / CIMMYT

Farmers who set up trials were given a two-kilogram package of TELA maize as part of demonstrations to raise awareness of the variety and help farmers to evaluate their behavior. The package also contained a packet of non-Bt maize seed called refuge seed that is planted on the edge of the main plot. This non-Bt corn provides protection that allows susceptible borers to survive and thus delay the emergence or spread of borers capable of overcoming the resistance of Bt maize.

"It is extremely important that farmers understand the conditions and the procedure for planting TELA maize and the shelter seed found in a bag inside the TELA seed pack," warns Kingston Mashagaidze, WEMA project coordinator in South Africa. "Extensionists have been trained to plant TELA and seed shelter, and thus can help farmers to grow corn in the right way."

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