Enhancing food security and income in Cameroon through improved maize varieties

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020 - 21:00
  • Australia Awards
  • Cameroon

Developing new and better-quality maize varieties is one-way Cameroon can improve health through better diets and increased farmer incomes, especially in rural communities. It is a challenge Cameroonian alumna, Hortense Noelle Mafouasson, is determined to tackle.

Developing new and better-quality maize varieties is one-way Cameroon can improve health through better diets and increased farmer incomes, especially in rural communities. It is a challenge Cameroonian alumna, Hortense Noelle Mafouasson, is determined to tackle, especially since 22 per cent of the country’s rural households are experiencing food insecurity (World Food Program, 2017). 

As Senior Research Officer and head of the Cereal Program at the Institute of Agricultural Research for Development (IRAD) in Yaounde, Hortense conducts important research on developing improved maize varieties. She oversees the valorization of research results on annual crops in the Department of Valorisation and Innovation. In doing so, Hortense is knocking down many roadblocks to food insecurity by improving farming practices, enhancing the maize value chain and introducing alternative maize varieties to farmers such as Provitamin A (PVA).

‘By developing high yielding and more nutritious maize varieties like PVA and making them available to those directly involved in the maize value chain, I’m contributing to Cameroon’s economic growth by increasing national production and reducing reliance on imports,’ says Hortense. ‘This is improving Cameroon’s economic growth through improved food security, reducing poverty and improving the health of citizens along the way.’

In 2019, Hortense completed the University of Sydney’s Increasing the Development Impact of Agricultural Research (IDIAR) short course. She attributes her ability to bring some changes in the Institute’s work practices to the skills she gained while on Award. This includes skills in multidisciplinary research, participatory approaches, stakeholder analysis and engagement, and leadership, all of which she relies on to make a real difference through her current work.

‘The reintegration action plan (RAP) I developed as part of the short course has been instrumental in changing the way we introduce new maize varieties to stakeholders in Cameroon,’ says Hortense. ‘Through a participatory approach, stakeholders are now involved in all key processes from the start and contribute by sharing their views on and ideas about new or better quality maize varieties.’

Through the participatory approach, Hortense is sensitizing maize stakeholders on the benefits of PVA maize varieties. The PVA maize is a special type of biofortified maize containing high levels of beta-carotene. It improves vitamin A levels and nutrition in Cameroonians, including among women and girls and in rural and disadvantaged households.

Hortense also formed a multidisciplinary research team in IRAD comprising breeders, socio-economists, food technologist and agronomists, to implement her RAP. Before this, only breeders and technicians were involved in her breeding projects.

As part of her RAP, Hortense worked on a pilot project introducing PVA maize varieties to farmers living in Mbalmayo, a rural community in Cameroon. Hortense’s employer has supported her work by integrating her RAP into the collaborative HarvestPlus maize project underway with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) Ibadan. Hortense also provided human resources, land and infrastructure support for the project.

Hortense and her team organised a field day in Mbalmayo village for her project, on 14 November 2019, which generated significant interest from those involved in the maize value chain in testing PVA maize varieties. Hortense established the demonstration plots as well as hybrids evaluation plots in Mbalmayo before the event and facilitated the participatory evaluation selection of the maize varieties. Two members of Cameroon Australian Awards Alumni Association attended the field day, provided technical advice and supported the team.

One hundred farmers, maize seed producers and representatives from cooperatives and seed companies have already benefited from the participatory approach of the field day. Five representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, two from partner institutions, one each from a non-governmental organisation and the Agricultural Investment Market Development Project also benefitted.

As a maize breeder herself, Hortense directly contributed to producing breeder seeds of PVA maize varieties (PVA SYN 6 and PVA SYN13) in Mbalmayo on 0.5 hectares. Thirty farmer group representatives will receive PVA maize seed varieties and be trained on increasing farm production and improving the nutritional and health status of their communities. Already, Hortense has facilitated the production of 300 kilograms of basic seeds of two PVA varieties, now available to seed producers. 

The Mbalmayo project continues its flow-on benefits such as learning more about the PVA maize varieties. Farming production techniques are being developed, and seed producers and farmers now have greater access to quality PVA maize variety seeds. By using the seeds produced and applying their new knowledge, the farmers and their families will enjoy better nutrition and income in the short term.  

The Mbalmayo project will continue its positive impact on poor households through better access to good quality PVA maize seeds and the increased maize production in communities. Hortense plans to extend similar activities to other rural Cameroonian communities soon.