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Lessons from Africa: The Importance of Production Research

Fall 2013

During a recent consulting trip, I was working in Northern Nigeria with a company called MANOMA SEEDS Ltd located in Funtua operating in Katsina State. This is a start-up company producing mainly open pollinated variety (OPV) maize seed. The company wanted to switch to hybrid maize seed as customer demand for hybrids has increased.


In most cases, the company would make a request from the national maize program. They would ask for a small quantity of a hybrid maize seed variety that has been released to put in demo plots and plant in key villages so farmers can see the advantage of the hybrid maize over a local variety they are planting today. This is a good strategy if the seed is available from the breeders. However, there is a big challenge for a company changing from OPV maize production to hybrid maize production.

OPV maize seed: Production is mainly an increasing of the seed to the next generation with no need to de-tassel, nor the required isolation for certification.

Hybrid maize seed: Requires two parent lines. You need to de-tassel the female, determine the number of male rows necessary for required pollen shedding, and identify the timeliness of planting between the male and female rows to optimize reproductive stages; pollen shed of the male and silking of the female plants. In addition, fields must have isolation from other maize to be certified. (Example: two rows of male and six rows of female parent lines.)

In many cases in the past, the national maize breeding program in Nigeria did not have the capabilities or resources in their program to record observation notes under the different environments in which companies’ crops are being grown. Their main focus was to release hybrids, which in their judgment, were easy to produce, (e.g. top crosses hybrids.)


With the drive for higher yield, farmers are moving to more three way crosses which are more difficult to produce but provide higher performance.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that a hybrid released in the Kano area of Nigeria may perform very well in that environment, but in the Jos area, it has poor performance. This is much like in the US where a hybrid that performs well in central Illinois may not perform well in central Indiana. When it comes to the production of the different hybrids consideration must be given to the inbred lines used in the production process to make sure they are adapted to the area where they are going to be grown and the hybrid being produced. Below is an example of hybrid development in area where the male line is not adapted, resulting in no seed set and financial loss for the company.

This situation can be avoided by the process of Production Research. Production research involves planting the parent material to be used in production in the area where you are producing it. Then, a careful observation process of the lines throughout a growth and development cycle allows researchers to track each parent line’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, through intensive note taking during the growing season, researchers may track dates and conditions of when the line reaches first silk, first pollen; then 50% silk, 50% pollen, disease presence and susceptibility, stalk strength, and many other factors that are critical for production maturity, yield of line and germination of the resulting seed as a hybrid moves toward large scale production.



Production research data can greatly help determine how the lines perform in the different environments. For example, line A is approximately five to six days later than line B. Therefore you would have to plant line A five to six days earlier than line B to obtain synching of the lines for pollen and silk. In this example line A would be used as the female and line B would be used as the male in 1:4 male to female ratio. (Note: in the US, growing degree days are used to determine the maturity of the lines vs. days that are used in Africa at this time.)


Line A (left in above picture), and Line B (right in above picture)

More companies in Nigeria now understand the benefits and the needs for a production research function. They are understanding the importance of a comprehensive system of production research in contrast to research that solely focuses on ability to produce possible hybrids, the cost of goods, etc. Production research considers all of these factors together, including quality, purity and germination. Ultimately, production research best identifies parent lines and production methods that will result in new hybrids – hybrids suited to perform well in the given environment.

In the production of hybrid maize in a country like Nigeria, it is important to understand the technical risks and demands of moving from OPV maize to hybrid maize. A well-organized production research effort will pay dividends short and long term. In many cases, a company can use this process for training of contract growers/out growers on the production of the hybrid at the same time. Small risks and learning experiences at this stage make a major difference in profitability and becoming a dependable supplier of high performing hybrids.

For more information, contact Dave Westphal, Context Senior Associate at