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Maize (Zea mays)
Maize is a cereal crop that is grown widely throughout the world in a range of agroecological environments. More maize is produced annually than any other grain. About 50 species exist and consist of different colors, textures and grain shapes and sizes. White, yellow and red are the most common types. The white and yellow varieties are preferred by most people depending on the region.
Maize was introduced into Africa in the 1500s and has since become one of Africa's dominant food crops. Like many other regions, it is consumed as a vegetable although it is a grain crop. The grains are rich in vitamins A, C and E, carbohydrates, and essential minerals, and contain 9% protein. They are also rich in dietary fiber and calories which are a good source of energy.
Until recent years, the bulk of the maize grain produced in Nigeria was from her south- west zone. Ogunbode and Olokojo (1999) reported that Western Nigeria generally produce about 50% of the Nigeria’s green maize, the remaining 50% being split between the North and the east. There has been a dramatic shift of dry grain production to the Northern guinea savannah belt which encompases Kwara, Kogi and Niger states.
Maize is the most important cereal crop in sub-Saharan Africa. In South Africa, maize is known as ‘mielie’, and it was introduced to the country in the 1500s. Since then it has come to count for a big part of Africa’s cereal crop, as well as a staple food for those living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Nigeria alone produces almost 8,000,000 tons of maize each year, with Africa harvesting a grand yearly total of almost thirty million hectares of field corn.
Maize is increasingly used as a feedstock for the production of ethanol fuel. Ethanol is mixed with gasoline to decrease the amount of pollutants emitted when used to fuel motor vehicles. High fuel prices in mid-2007 led to higher demand for ethanol, which in turn lead to higher prices paid to farmers for maize. This led to the 2007 harvest being one of the most profitable maize crops in modern history for farmers. Because of the relationship between fuel and maize, prices paid for the crop now tend to track the price of oil.
Pest and diseases
There are several diseases which affect maize depending on the life cycle from it cultivation stage till the storage level. They can account for 20-40% losses during cultivation and 30-90% losses during postharvest and during storage. Maize diseases include Anthracnose, downy mildew, smut, rust, leaf blight, leaf spot, and maize streak virus. Common pest of maize include; Termite, stem borer, ear borers, maize weevils, rodents.
Crop maturity from planting to grain harvest stage takes 4½-6 months, depending on variety, seasonal conditions and time of planting. Harvesting is the single deliberate action to separate the cob from its grown medium, while grain can physically be harvested at up to 25% moisture; this is not recommended as drying costs will be high. Grain should not exceed 14% for storage purpose.
Production figures from FAO (FAOSTAT, 2011) show that the area planted to maize in Nigeria has increased from 438,000 ha in 1981 to 3,335,860 ha in 2009 with associated increase in production from 720,000 tons to 7,338,840 tons during the same period. Grain yield has also increased from 1.6 t/ha in 1981 to 2.0. t/ha in 2009.It is an extremely versatile crop that can be grown in wet, hot climates, and also thrive in cold, dry or wet conditions.
Maize is the most productive grain crops in the middle and northern belts of Nigeria where sunshine is adequate and rainfall is moderate. In these areas storage of grains can be accomplished without much damage from the insect pest. The recent achievement by the breeders in the development and release of superior maize varieties with higher yield potentials and better resistance to insect and disease has also played a central role in increase maize production in Nigeria. (FAO, 2004)
Maize production map of Nigeria
Worldwide consumption of maize is more than 116 million tons, with Africa consuming 30% and SSA 21%. However, Lesotho has the largest consumption per capita with 174 kg per year. Eastern and Southern Africa uses 85% of its production as food, while Africa as a whole uses 95%, compared to other world regions that use most of its maize as animal feed.
Ninety percent of white maize consumption is in Africa and Central America. It fetches premium prices in Southern Africa where it represents the main staple food. Yellow maize is preferred in most parts of South America and the Caribbean. It is also the preferred animal feed in many regions as it gives a yellow color to poultry, egg yolks and animal fat.
Global cereal demand in 2020 is estimated at 2.1 billion MT and will, for the first time, show a major shift in favor of maize with demand estimated at 852 million MT compared with 760 million MT for wheat and 503 million MT for rice. Thus, global demand for maize in 2020 will increase by 45% (compared with 30% for wheat and 32% for rice). This reflects a substantial growth of 72% for maize in developing countries, and 18% growth in industrial countries. This 72% increase in demand for maize in developing countries compares with only 44% for wheat and 33% for rice.
The demand for maize as a result of the various domestic uses shows that a domestic demand of 3.5million metric tonnes outstrips production of about 2 million metric tonnes (Akande 1994) Some of the factors that make maize an ideal target crop for intensification in high production potential areas of the county include the following:
· Its high yield potential
· Diversified uses,
· Ease of transportation, processing and marketing
· The availability of dependable research products
Nigeria is endowed with such high production potential areas which also have low population diversity making them suitable for expanding maize production
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 Culled from http://www.fmard.org/index.php/agricultural-value-chains/maize (Action Plan for the Maize-Soybean Transformation in Nigeria)
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