Maize is the most important cereal in terms of production and use in Ghana. The crop is produced in all the five agro-ecologies, characterised by significant climatic variations with frequent periods of drought and other stresses, resulting in crop losses.

In Ghana, the Council for Scientific Research (CSIR) Crops Research Institute (CRI) based in Kumasi has contributed immensely to maize improvement. The contributions of CSIR-CRI Maize Breeding Programme to Ghana’s development can be found in every household where a maize product of local origin is consumed.

The focus of maize breeding at the institute has been to develop stable and high-yielding maize varieties with the capacity to perform well in all the agro-ecologies in Ghana. 

It is estimated that over 80 per cent  of improved maize varieties grown in Ghana were developed and released by CSIR-CRI with support from its partners. Prior to the official release of maize varieties, maize cultivation in Ghana was dominated by unimproved land races whose yield potentials were less than one ton/ha but now hovers around 1.9tons/ha on farmers field (See graph). Other maize-breeding objectives are focused on enhancing nutritional benefits of the crop to consumers. 

Hybrid development

The development of hybrid varieties has been embraced by Maize Breeders at CSIR-CRI. Hybrid breeding is a tedious process that involves the identification of suitable parents which when crossed, will produce offsprings that are far more productive than their parents (Plate 1). Farmers will always have to buy fresh seeds every year/season for planting if they want sustained yields, a situation most Ghanaian farmers have not woken up to! 

Drought resistance/tolerance

Drought constitutes a major threat to maize productivity worldwide. With climate change and irregular rainfall, the need for maize varieties with resistance/tolerance to drought is needed. In collaboration with international partners, CSIR-CRI has developed and released commercial varieties that are drought resistant.

Nutritional improvement

CSIR-CRI was the first research institute/organisation in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa to breed for quality protein maize (QPM) varieties rich in lysine and tryptophan. The famous ‘Obatanpa’ maize variety released in 1992 by CSIR-CRI is currently grown under various names in about 20 African countries and continues to stand tall both in terms of yield and nutritional quality. One estimate showed that over 80 million US dollars have been saved to the country upon the development of QPM varieties. Other nutritionally superior varieties rich in beta carotene and high yielding have been released by CSIR-CRI. Beta carotene rich maize are good for children, pregnant women and poultry. 

Agronomic packages

Important agronomic packages for improved productivity have been developed by the Institute. These range from good land preparation, timely planting, proper planting, fertiliser application, weed management, timely harvesting to proper storage of all the released varieties which are available. 

Challenges and the way forward

The major challenge to maize improvement efforts have been inadequate funding. According to a report prepared by Ghana’s Millennium Development Authority (MiDA), Ghana has a shortfall in maize production of about nine per cent to 15 per cent of national requirements and this is projected to increase. Adequate funding for the development of new varieties is needed to close this gap.

Low adoption of hybrid varieties is another challenge. Rapid adoption of hybrid maize varieties has the potential to triple farmer yields from the current 1.9 tons/ha to over 4.5 tons/ha or even higher in farmers’ fields. 

The challenges of poor seed supply systems in the country cannot be over-emphasised. Perhaps, with the promulgation of the Plant Breeders Bill, maize breeders can liaise with emerging private seed companies to help disseminate newly released hybrid varieties for rapid adoption. 

Other important areas that need research attention are breeding for improved popcorn and sweet corn varieties for the Ghanaian market. Farmers can earn decent incomes from the cultivation of these varieties. However, serious efforts are underway to attract funding from potential donors to support the breeding of these types of maize in the country.

The challenge posed by pests and diseases is not completely won as new and potent pathogens and pests keep emerging. The recent outbreak of army worms in some parts of the country is a case in point which had a toll on maize productivity in 2016. To overcome these challenges requires constant monitoring and breeding interventions to curtail any catastrophic consequences. 

We conclude by requesting the support of the Ghana government, donor agencies and organisations interested in food security to support maize improvement research, particularly at CSIR-CRI, to develop new higher yielding and preferred varieties for the diversified users.

The article was written by 

Allen Oppong, Manfred B. Ewool, Priscilla Ribeiro, K. Obeng-Antwi and Stella A. Ennin

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