Contributing Resilient Maize Hybrids for Plant Breeding Success

Contributing Resilient Maize Hybrids for Plant Breeding Success

Mr Chimwemwe Josia, a Technology Transfer Specialist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Malawi, graduated with his Masters in Plant Breeding through the Improved Masters in Cultivar Development for Africa (IMCDA) programme at UKZN. 

Josia evaluated maize hybrids for low-nitrogen tolerance, yield stability and genetic purity. He tested the yield performance and stability of single cross maize hybrids under low Nitrogen (N) stress, and conducted molecular marker-based genetic purity analyses on the maize parental lines and the resultant hybrids to test their quality. Using hybrids from three locations, Potchefstroom, Vaalharts and Cedara, Josia identified 13 single cross maize hybrids that are genetically pure, tolerant to low N, high yielding and stable across locations. 

‘These are potential candidates for further evaluation and release as low N tolerant hybrids in South Africa, and information generated from genetic purity analysis will strengthen the maize breeding programme implemented by the Agricultural Research Council-Grain Crops Institute (ARC-GCI) in South Africa,’ said Josia. 

Josia was inspired to pursue this research as production of maize, which remains the principal source of food security and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa, faces challenges owing to abiotic stresses such as low Nitrogen. He hoped to offer a sustainable solution for farmers to achieve resilience as soil fertility declines in Africa. 

He joined the IMCDA programme, funded by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), in order to prepare himself to become a scientist working in plant breeding and seed systems who could address the challenges faced by smallholder farmers. The programme’s unique blend of coursework with a yearlong internship in research institutes in Africa, such as the ARC-GCI where Josia was based, contributed to preparing him for industry. 

He selected UKZN owing to its high ranking and reputation for distinguished research, knowing that guidance from its researchers would enable him to make an original contribution to his field. He said that he appreciated the University’s rich cultural diversity and the opportunities it afforded for academic networking. 

Prior to joining UKZN, Josia studied Agronomy at the former Bunda College of Agriculture at the University of Malawi, now the Lilongwe University of Agricultural and Natural Resources. 

Having completed his masters in this multidisciplinary field, several career opportunities arose. At IITA, he conducts research into cowpea and soybean seed production, and works in technology transfer. Following graduation, Josia will join SeedCo, where he will be involved in commercial maize hybrid and legume seed production, as well as related seed production research. He plans to continue with this work while exploring PhD scholarship opportunities. 

Josia extended special thanks to his supervisor, IMCDA project manager, Dr Julia Sibiya, for her support. He also thanked Drs Cousin Musvosvi and Amelework Beyene Assefa for their contributions during his studies. He acknowledged his co-supervisor and research mentor Dr Kingstone Mashingaidze at the ARC-GCI, as well as the ARC-GCI maize breeding team, thanking them for their support and for providing the planting materials and facilities used in his study. He also thanked AGRA for making his studies possible. 

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan

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