AAA (Affordable, Accessible, Asian) drought-tolerant maize in India
Crops of focus: Maize
Countries of focus: India
In majority farmed by tribal communities, maize crops in India often grow using low-input and low-output farming systems. For instance, average maize yields across drylands in Central West India are only 1.5 tons per hectare. This offers an opportunity for substantial yield increases through affordable hybrid varieties and higher seed quality. Even if hybrid maize cultivation has developed significantly over the last 15 years on account of the private sector, smallholder farmers still plant Open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) on approximately 1.3 million hectares, which constitutes about half of the total maize area. These maize crops are rarely irrigated due to the resources available for farming and the climate conditions of the region.
Our initiative has the overarching mission of offering resource-poor smallholders affordable drought-tolerant hybrid maize varieties which could substantially increase their yield and generate additional income (Affordable, Accessible, Asian – “AAA” drought-tolerant maize program). Initially a breeding project in 2010, the initiative grew in 2018, when parties launched AAA commercial plans with selected local seed companies in 3 states in India. Today, the project aims to make AAA hybrids available to other third-party seed companies for further breeding, production and commercialization in agreed territories. Our two phases to achieve this mission are the following:
Develop (produce, promote and sell) drought tolerant, high yielding, three-way (lower costs) AAA maize varieties at an affordable price (INR 150/kg at farm)
Increase impoverished smallholder farmers’ yield from 1.5 tons/ha to 2.5 tons/ha, thus generating an additional net income of $100/ha.
Details of the project
AAA maize is an International Public Good model that involves Syngenta, CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center) and Seed Partners. While CIMMYT licenses the male parent, Syngenta licenses the female parent to seed partners at discounted rates. Adhering to SFSA guidelines, around ten seed partners, which include small companies or NGOs, produce and sell the varieties.
To enable smallholders’ informed adoption and continual purchase of AAA maize, seed partners need to undertake appropriate marketing strategies and provide support to smallholders. SFSA training for partners begins before commercialization and continues in the classroom as well as in the field. During these sessions, seed partners learn about the technicalities of production and business opportunities. For instance, they receive training on scoping, product positioning, pricing, promotional activities, sales and production planning, legal frameworks, as well as registration licensing agreements.
This extensive training program has helped local seed partners in India to sell 18 tons of AAA maize in 2018, and 50 tons the following year. Despite the recent pandemic, the number of AAA maize continued to rise to 120 tons in 2020. In 2022, the number of seeds sold by our seed partners reached 210 tons of seeds. In parallel, the number of smallholders growing AAA maize has risen from 900 in 2018 to approximately 14,000 in 2022.