Maize is a staple food in many parts of the world, with the total production surpassing wheat or rice. Maize is usually consumed green but can also be eaten as masa, a maize dough from ground corn, soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution to remove aflatoxin, which Latin Americans consume.
The crop is also used as the main ingredient to produce corn ethanol, animal feed, and other by-products, such as corn starch and corn syrup.
Variations in maize yield may be due to several biotic and abiotic factors, including, but not limited to, pests and diseases, nutrient deficiencies, and climate change. Furthermore, the period of farmland cultivation, the number and species of livestock held, and soil fertility level are major predictors of on-farm production involving maize.
In line with the above, researchers carried out a study to determine maize yield gaps across Rwanda in Bugesera and Rubavu districts, representing two contrasting agroecological zones. The study also aimed to devise appropriate strategies for managing maize yield gaps to ensure food security in Rwanda.
One of the researchers, Nabahungu N. Leon, an IITA System Agronomist, pointed out that an increase in agricultural productivity in smallholder farms is greatly subject to the efficient use of available inputs. Likewise, providing plants with sufficient nutrients is critical, as their availability may heavily impact crop productivity. It was evident that applying adequate and correct amounts of soil nutrients, coupled with sound management strategies, will translate into increased food production for sustainable improvements in food security and additional income among farmers.
Therefore, sustaining food production should target farm-level issues and address all the limiting factors giving rise to low productivity. In addition, performing seasonal yield assessments and building specific yield prediction models can help design strategies to avoid severe crop failures.
The study also found that adequate agricultural inputs (nutrient amendments) and best management practices are key to reversing the trend. In this vein, governments, including the various stakeholders, are urged to address current human needs while preserving land quality for future generations.
The full article, Managing and Determining maize yield gaps in Rwanda, is available here