Research Partnerships for More and Better Maize

A multi-stakeholder partnership between a CGIAR center, CIMMYT (The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center), the U.S. Agency for International Development, and Corteva Agriscience™, the Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is focused on fighting a deadly virus that destroys maize in developing countries.

Maize plants showing maize lethal necrosis (MLN). Infected plants are short and the leaves die at about flowering time. (Credit: CIMMYT)

Known as maize lethal necrosis, the disease is caused by a combination of viruses which can only be treated by developing genetic resistance in the plant.  With millions of smallholder farmers dependent on maize in Africa, the disease has destroyed up to 30 percent of some family maize crops and has the potential to disrupt food security and trade.

Maize lethal necrosis technician Janet Kimunye collecting maize leaf samples in the field. The samples will be used to test for MLN-causing viruses. (Credit: George Mahuku/CIMMYT).

Together, CIMMYT and Corteva are researching how CRISPR-Cas9 technology (advanced breeding through gene-editing, relying on natural processes that happen in the genome, but targets those changes more precisely) may help the maize become resistant to the virus.  Long-term research partnerships between institutions such as CIMMYT and Corteva help develop trust and collaborative action by bringing private-sector resources and experience to the table.

Another example of a powerful multi-stakeholder research partnership includes the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, in which drought tolerant maize seed is being developed for the specific needs of African farmers.  The WEMA project is the largest tropical white maize breeding program in sub-Saharan Africa.  As a leading WEMA partner, Monsanto Company (recently acquired by Bayer AG) shared 600 elite parental lines of maize seed, along with technical plant breeding know-how and biotech drought-tolerant and insect protection traits.  Monsanto also leveraged the expertise of local research partners to develop locally-adapted hybrid maize.

To learn more about WEMA, read Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa case study in this report.

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