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Picture Book Teaches About Open-Pollinated Varieties

May 14, 2012
May, 2004

mazorcaMzuzukuru and Sekuru may not be real people, but these two new faces will help teach extension workers and farmers about growing open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) in Zimbabwe.

In a brightly colored, cartoon-style booklet published in March 2004 by CIMMYT-Zimbabwe and Agricultural Research and Extension in Zimbabwe (AREX), these fictional characters examine maize and chat in the field about the benefits of OPVs.

“Young man, I’ve been watching your fields for some time,” the older Sekuru says at the beginning of the booklet. “Your maize is growing well. What’s your secret?” His query sets off a series of questions and explanations with Mzuzukuru, who relays how he grows a drought-tolerant, well-adapted OPV.

The booklet’s creators, Peter Setimela and Marianne Banziger from CIMMYT-Zimbabwe along with Xavier Mhike and Patience Nyakanda from the National Agricultural Research System in Zimbabwe (AREX), initiated the booklet after attending a workshop about successful community-based seed strategies. There they learned that many NGOs and extension workers did not know the difference between OPVs and hybrids, says Setimela.

In response to this lack of information, the group decided that a simple and entertaining picture book would be the best way to educate people about the issue. It could answer common questions in terms that are accessible for everyone.

The collaborators hope the booklet, titled “Improve Your Maize Harvests: Grow Certified Seed of Open-Pollinated Varieties,” educates extension workers, NGOs in seed distribution, and farmers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) about seed recycling and the differences between hybrids and OPVs.

Setimela would even like children to be able to understand the booklet, which uses non-technical language, and bring it to their parents. “It provides simple scientific information that non-scientists can understand and apply,” he says. “And now extension workers can pass the information on to farmers.”

In the booklet, the younger Mzuzukuru corrects common misconceptions about differences between hybrids and OPVs. For example, although planting recycled hybrid seed causes lower yields, he says, farmers can recycle OPV seed for one or two seasons without much yield loss. He also clarifies that while hybrid seed is suitable for productive fields, OPVs are better for poorer fields.

Mzuzukuru also explains that maize varieties can mix when they grow near each other. To keep a variety pure, farmers should plant certified seed that is recommended for that area, isolate the crop from other varieties, inspect the field before flowering, and remove any dissimilar plants. He says that certified OPV seed is produced under strict guidelines to avoid contamination.

Setimela says the predominance of hybrid seed on the market in southern Africa has led to the dearth of knowledge about OPVs. Most farmers in the SADC region have limited access to improved seed and end up recycling seed that has been exhausted after many years of planting. This practice can perpetuate low yields and food insecurity. However, Setimela expects the trend to change as many NGOs and farming communities have become interested in new stress-tolerant OPVs that were developed in southern Africa.

Picture books can be very effective teaching tools, according to CIMMYT maize breeder Kevin Pixley. In Bangladesh, he saw flipcharts about activities such as seed production that paired the local language with cartoon-type drawings to use in farmer discussions. Pixley understood the message through the drawings, even though he could not understand the words.

“The temptation is to make it too complicated, and also the temptation is to do it from the scientists’ perspective,” says Pixley, who thinks the best strategies are developed with farmer input. “Unless you involve farmers in developing the messages, you’re not going to end up with something that is as good as it should be.”

The OPV booklet will soon be available in other languages. The national maize breeder in Mozambique is going to translate it into Portuguese, and the head of Zimbabwe’s crop breeding institute wants it translated into Shona and Ndebele. It may be translated into other southern African languages, as well. Feedback on the OPV booklet will help everyone revise it to improve its effectiveness.

At the booklet’s end, Mzuzukuru and Sekuru shake hands, just as they do at the beginning. Extension workers and farmers will probably share Sekuru’s final conclusion: “Thanks for your advice!”

For more information, contact Peter Setimela

Link to the booklet (in PDF format 846KB):
“Improve Your Maize Harvests: Grow Certified Seed of Open-Pollinated Varieties”