14 Improved Crop Varieties Officially Released in the Democratic Republic of Congo
February 2017 – Farmers in the Democratic Republic of Congo will reap the benefits of extensive evaluations of improved crop varieties in North and South Kivu that culminated in the release of 14 new and improved varieties of three critical food crops earlier this month. Agricultural authorities from DRC’s “Service National des Semences” (SENASEM) have announced that 3 new varieties of maize, 1 variety of cassava, and 10 varieties of an assortment of both climbing beans and bush beans will be available to farmers immediately. They will also be listed in the national crop variety catalogue.
The release of these seeds marks a landmark moment in the country, as it is, for example, the first time a hybrid maize variety has been released and commercialized for use by farmers in the DRC. The released cassava variety is likewise the first ever available to farmers with resistance to the devastating cassava brown streak disease. These varieties were tested and proposed for release by DRC’s national agricultural research institute, INERA. This work was sponsored by Partners for Seed in Africa (PASA), with funding from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, entered into the country in 2014.
Besides their potential to enable farmers double their yields, all the varieties have unique characteristics that make them best suited to the North and South Kivu ecological conditions. They are:
Cassava – Despite being the largest cassava consuming country in Africa, the predominant varieties that farmers grow are affected by cassava brown streak disease which makes the tuber unpalatable and reduces yields to less than 3 tons per hectare – an extremely low figure for cassava. The new variety, ‘Kizimbani’, is resistant to the disease and is high yielding, producing about 20-35 tons per hectare.
Beans – Farmers traditionally grow the local beans types ‘Kabulangeti’ whose yield is less than 0.4 tons per hectare. The newly released 6 varieties of climbing beans yield 1.5-2.5 tons per hectare. Additionally, the project has released 4 bush bean varieties which yield 1.2 tons per hectare
Hybrid maize – The new hybrid maize – UH5053 – was originally bred by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and has the potential to increase the yields of maize on farmers’ fields from the current 1 ton per hectare to 3.5 tons per hectare. This variety is also particularly responsive to fertilizer use. For example, farmers who planted the hybrid seeds and used fertilizer harvested approximately 4-5 tons per hectare in 2016. It is hoped that this variety will present an attractive alternative to the local, low yielding ‘Bamboo’ variety that is commonly planted.
The newly-available seeds will not only benefit the farmers but also the country’s nascent private seed sector, as private seed companies operating in DRC will now be allowed to fully commercialize and produce certified seeds of these varieties for sale to farmers. PASA has also supported the establishment of five local private seed companies in the DRC.