Seed sector: Renewed maize grain revives Haitian agriculture

In Haiti, a renewed and improved maize seed variety provides seven times the yield of traditional varieties, helping to tackle food insecurity and malnutrition in the country. Farmers interested in working in the seed sector receive training in production of the seed to ensure the genetic purity is maintained.

Hugo Plus produces up to seven times as much maize as traditional varieties © Levael Eugene/CIMMYT

A quality protein maize (QPM) variety with greater genetic purity and yield potential than local maize grain has been produced and distributed in Haiti. The improved QPM, known as ‘Hugo Plus’, is more nutritious than local varieties, with a higher content of essential amino acids and a good source of protein. Hugo Plus also produces up to 7 t/ha in comparison to traditional varieties that produce on average less than 1 t/ha. The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) has grown 150 t of the improved seed, to increase local food security and decrease malnutrition.

The poorest country in the Caribbean, Haiti has the lowest maize yields in the region and roughly 50% of the population is undernourished. According to USAID, who have helped to implement the project, Haiti cannot achieve economic growth and national stability if food security is not addressed. However, in the absence of formal seed companies, improving food security is complicated says Alberto Chassaigne, a CIMMYT maize seed system specialist. “Farmers often sell their entire crop at harvest, leaving nothing for the next season, forcing them to plant simple maize grain that they buy from local markets rather than certified seed, drastically reducing yield over time,” he says.

A ‘basic’ Hugo variety was first produced and provided to Haitian farmers in 1998 after decades of maize research in Haiti and Latin America by CIMMYT and the Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment. Although initially a favourite among farmers, over time, the variety lost its genetic purity due to the lack of certified seed production in the region, leading to a drop in yields.

To ensure genetic purity of the renewed Hugo is maintained, CIMMYT is providing capacity development in the production and processing of Hugo Plus to farmers interested in working in the country’s maize seed sector. Three different entrepreneur groups interested in establishing a seed enterprise have been identified, and each group has received seed production and processing training from CIMMYT. A partner project, Feed the Future Chanje Lavi Plantè (Improving Farmers’ Lives), works with 60,000 farmers including 3,000 ‘master farmers’ who promote the use of Hugo Plus to other local farmers. “We can have an impact in Haiti, but our focus is for this impact to be that they have people well-trained in quality seed production with the criteria of cutting dependency,” says Chassaigne.

Of the 150 t of renewed Hugo Plus grown in 2016/2017 in Mexico, 20 t have already arrived in Haiti where it will be sold to farmers at affordable prices from input shops established by USAID’s Feed the Future programme and partners. The remaining 130 t will be used as a strategic seed reserve in case of natural disasters by providing an immediately available stock of seeds for re-planting. An additional 15 t of seed will be harvested in Haiti, up from 0-3 t in previous years.

Through a systemic series of maize trials, CIMMYT scientists have found new germplasms for two other resilient varieties – ‘Mayi Plus I’ and ‘Mayi Plus II’ – which outperform any other available seed, in both irrigated and rain-fed conditions. These resilient varieties are currently under multiplication to be introduced to Haitian maize farmers.

Sophie Reeve

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.