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Zimbabwe turns to drought-resistant crops

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“This is what we have always asked for,” Ndlovu said. “My only hope is that this seed variety is affordable to us. We have for some time now been buying seed maize outside the country because the locally produced type is expensive.”

SIRDC says research into drought-resistant maize began more than a decade ago and has cost around $200,000. The center’s current research forms part of a policy on food and nutrition security adopted by government early this year.

Already, more maize hybrids are being tested across the country as farmers prepare for the planting season.

This fresh commitment to scientific research could be a significant help in a country where smallholder farmers, who produce up to 70 percent of the country’s food, continue to face severe challenges from lack of farming inputs, absence of irrigation schemes, and poor weather-forecasting techniques.

The research comes against the backdrop of announcements by the agriculture ministry that farmers will not meet the country’s grain needs again this year. Zimbabwe’s Vulnerability Assessment Committee Survey for 2012 estimates that close to 2 million people currently need food assistance.

Dexter Savadye, director of BRI, describes Sirdamaize 113 as a response to threats to the country’s food security.

“Zimbabwe has been experiencing a cycle of droughts and this has spurred the need for research in new maize varieties,” Savadye said.

Gugulethu Ndlovu of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union welcomed the possibility of improved crop yields.

“We have always said that the country needs fresh approaches to respond to low rainfall and food insecurity,” he said.

“If the country does not invest in research and development, we are likely to complain about the same things each planting season,” added Ndlovu (who is not related to farmer Thomas Ndlovu).

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