Maize in Africa


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Maize is the most-produced cereal worldwide. In Africa alone, more than 300 million people depend on maize as their main food crop. In addition, maize is also very important as feed for farm animals. Currently, approximately 1 billion tons of maize are grown in more than 170 countries on about 180 million hectares of land. 90% of the world’s production is yellow maize, but in Africa, 90% of the total maize production is white maize. In Africa, maize production is continuously and severely affected by a number of threats, such as weeds, insects, bacteria, viruses, nematodes, fungi, low quality seed, low levels of mechanization, suboptimal post-harvest management, drought and climate change. Therefore, the maize production in Africa is very low: while the average yield worldwide is approximately 5.5 tons/hectare/year, production in Africa stagnates at around 2 tons/hectare/year. To continue to guarantee maize food and feed security in Africa, good agricultural practices, intercropping, new hybrids obtained by conventional and marker-assisted breeding, and genetically modified (GM) plants are valuable tools to develop varieties with increased yield and resistance to pests, weeds, diseases and drought. Several breeding programs also develop new maize varieties with enhanced nutritional value.

Some Facts and Figures

Maize occupies approximately 24% of farmland in Africa and the average yield stagnates at around 2 tons/hectare/year.

In all African farmlands, stem borers cause significant yield losses ranging from 15 to 40%. In optimal insect infestation conditions, total crop failure can occur.

In 2016, the fall armyworm arrived in Africa. This insect spread in only one year to 12 African countries and is an enormous threat to local maize production.

Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease is a devastating and widely spread viral disease in Sub-Saharan Africa: yield losses of up to 90% have been reported.


Striga, a parasitic weed, has already infested 40 million hectares of land in Sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in a yield loss of 20 to 80%. The seeds of this weed remain viable and dormant in the soil for at least 20 years.


Contamination of maize kernels with mycotoxins is a major problem for the African maize trade and economy. More than 4,5 billion people in the developing world are chronically exposed to excessive levels of mycotoxins, resulting in adverse health effects.


Occasional drought stress affects approximately 40% of Africa’s maize-growing areas. Yield losses of 10-25% were measured. Approximately 25% of the maize suffers frequent drought, with harvest losses of up to 50%.

Maize proteins in the edosperm are deficient in the amino acids lysine and tryptophan, and white kernels additionally lack provitamin A. Because maize is the main food source of many people, a large portion of them suffer from “hidden hunger”, a pandamic related to vitamin and protein deficiencies.