School of Agricultural, Earth and Environmental Sciences

PhD Candidate’s Presentation Zooms in on Drought Tolerant Biofortified Maize

PhD Candidate’s Presentation Zooms in on Drought Tolerant Biofortified Maize

PhD candidate in Plant Breeding, Mr Aleck Kondwakwenda, recently presented his research at the annual Tropentag conference, hosted by Ghent University in Belgium.

The conference included discussions on global food security and food safety, specifically the role of universities.

Eight hundred and eighty people from 70 countries attended the conference; more than half were students. The programme comprised 111 oral presentations, 339 poster presentations and nine keynote presentations.

Kondwakwenda presented a paper on the Screening of Provitamin A Maize Inbred Lines Using the Screening of Provitamin A Maize Inbred Lines Using ß-Carotene Content, Morpho-Physiological and Biochemical Traits.

‘Provitamin A maize is maize with enhanced provitamin A content developed through plant breeding and biotechnology,’ explained Kondwakwenda.

Provitamin A maize production in South Africa is heavily affected by recurrent and episodic drought. There are shortages of provitamin A maize varieties developed and released in sub-Saharan Africa, and among the few released, none are drought tolerant.

Kondwakwenda explained that drought tolerance is difficult and expensive to breed. His study made use of diversified traits/parameters to identify and select inbred lines that have both high provitamin A content and exhibit characteristics of drought tolerance.

Kondwakwenda aims to contribute to improved agricultural productivity in sub-Saharan Africa, thereby combatting food and nutrition insecurity in the region.

Kondwakwenda focuses on biofortified maize instead of ordinary maize commonly consumed and produced by smallholder farmers due to the lack of vitamin A in the latter, which contributes to vitamin A deficiency (VAD). This condition leads to illnesses including weakened immune systems in children and eyesight problems in women and children.

‘In rural areas people rely largely on maize-based diets because they cannot afford to buy diversified foods like meat and fruits to achieve a balanced diet,’ said Kondwakwenda. ‘Developing drought tolerant maize genotypes with high provitamin A content could be a double sustainable solution to the challenge of drought induced low maize productivity and VAD.’

His PhD research has resulted in confirmed drought tolerant maize inbred lines with high provitamin A content, which could be marketed to public and private maize seed companies.

Kondwakwenda is from Zimbabwe and completed a BSc in Crop Science at the University of Zimbabwe, and a Masters in Soil Science at Ghent University. He also worked as a cotton breeder at a public agricultural research institute in Zimbabwe before enrolling for his PhD at UKZN, where he was able to take theoretical courses offered by the African Centre for Crop Improvement and the Improved Masters in Cultivar Development for Africa to bridge his background in soil science to plant breeding.

Kondwakwenda thanked his supervisors Dr Julia Sibiya and Dr Rebecca Zengeni for their input, and thanked Dr Samson Tesfay for his assistance with laboratory aspects of his research. He also thanked The World Academy of Sciences and the National Research Foundation for funding part of his studies and the trip to Tropentag, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa for funding his research expenses.

Words and photograph: Christine Cuenod