School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Plant breeder and MSc graduate, Mr Zawadi Mwaikonyole.

Improving Maize Yield Through Genetic Diversity

Mr Zawadi Angomwile Mwaikonyole, a crop production officer in Tanzania’s Mafia District Council, graduated with his Master’s degree in Plant Breeding through the Improved Masters in Cultivar Development for Africa (IMCDA) programme at UKZN. His research focused on the genetic diversity of maize inbred lines and evaluated early maturing hybrids under low and optimum nitrogen.

Using molecular markers, estimating variance components, correlation and the path coefficients of yield and related traits, and determining genotype by the environment interaction effects and stability of grain yield in early maturing maize hybrids under optimum and low nitrogen environments, Mwaikonyole set out to determine genetic diversity in maize inbred lines.

The cultivar superiority method enabled the identification of four superior hybrids across environments. Mwaikonyole said that these genotypes can be considered for further evaluation and release. Two environments were found to be the most discriminatory and high yielding, and these would be best suited to evaluate genotypes that are proposed for release to farmers.

He said he was interested in pursuing this research because of the wide gap between potential and actual yields of maize, owing to climate change and insufficient information regarding the genetic diversity of the inbred lines used to produce hybrids.

Understanding that there is a need for new improved, high yielding and stable cultivars that tolerate low nitrogen stress, Mwaikonyole evaluated early maturing maize hybrids for grain yield under optimum and low nitrogen stress conditions and analysed the genetic distances among maize inbred lines.

He said that he acquired many new skills in the process, including plant breeding techniques such as germplasm handling and management, field design and management, and analysis and interpretation of plant breeding data and results.

Mwaikonyole, who completed his previous degrees at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, hopes to be awarded a scholarship to continue to PhD studies, where he aims to cross distantly related inbred genetic lines and identify whether the hybrids generated are well adapted and high yielding to different test environments. He would like to pursue this research at UKZN, his Institution of choice because of its aim to “inspire greatness”, the quality of education offered, and the dedication of qualified lecturers who devote themselves to their students.

Mwaikonyole acknowledged the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) for making his studies possible. He thanked his supervisor Dr Julia Sibiya, as well as Drs Kingstone Mashingaidze, Cousin Musvosvi and Amelework Beyene Assefa for their contributions to his study. He also expressed gratitude to his wife, Jackline Ndelwa, his pastor Joshua Mosha, his daughters Faith and Eliana, and his church elders Ilumbi and Shekifu for their prayers and support.

Words: Christine Cuénod

Photograph: Abhi Indrarajan and Supplied