The Improved Maize for African Soils Project (IMAS) has been set up to improve African farmers’ access to maize varieties that are better adapted at capturing fertilizer. By developing new varieties that are more efficient in nitrogen uptake, the project hopes to develop maize crops that have a 30-50% yield improvement over existing varieties.
Launched recently in February 2010, IMAS is a project led by CIMMYT, a not-for-profit research centre working to improve maize and wheat crops, and is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID. Partners include the DuPont business Pioneer Hi-Bred, the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), who will all bring their expertise to help address the critical problem of increasing yields in poor soils.
The principal constraints on African maize yields are low soil fertility and low use of chemical fertilizers. Fertilizer use is constrained by high prices of fertilizers, which can be up to five times those in the USA. For the little fertilizer that is used, often no more than half of it is captured by the crop, the rest being leached into the soil and lost.
The new varieties will allow farmers to grow more crops, of better quality, but without having to purchase and use more fertilizer. Those developing the new varieties will be using a range of innovation methods to produce the new IMAS products, the first of which will be available to farmers within the next four years.