Where we work

Core Country Profiles


SIMLESA is working in Ethiopia because of the country’s large population of approximately 85 million people, and high poverty levels caused by recurrent famines, aggravated by small farm sizes, frequent droughts and extensive land degradation. The potential for improving productivity and incomes for farmers who depend on maize and legume systems, however, remains pitifully high. Ethiopia has 1.7 million hectares of maize yielding approximately 2.0 tons per hectare, but with very high variability which increases the risk of seasonal food insecurity. The legume area is expanding in response to growing export demand for legumes – for example, haricot beans to East Africa, and Sudan. Less than 25 percent of the maize or legume area is under improved varieties and underdeveloped seed systems are a major constraint.


Forty-six percent of Kenya’s population of approximately 40 million people live below the poverty line. However, there are regional disparities. About 59 percent of the population in the western highlands falls below the poverty line compared to 31 percent in the central highlands. Kenya has 1.6 million hectares of maize with an average yield of 1.8 tonnes per hectare (2007 figures), and a great need for recently developed stress tolerant varieties because of the heterogeneity of maize and legume production environments, including large areas of low rainfall semi-arid crop land. Soil degradation and erosion are also widespread. Agricultural research in Kenya started during the early years of the last century. The first hybrid maize variety was released in 1964. Since then, several maize and legume varieties and their accompanying agronomic practices have been generated by the agricultural research system in the country.


Malawi is heavily dependent on some 1-2 million hectares of maize with average yields (2.6 tonnes per hectare) that have been boosted recently by strong Government-led support programs. Seasonal variability is high depending on rainfall and fertilizer availability. Maize is the main staple food in Malawi. Over 90 percent of the total cultivated area is planted to maize, mostly by resource poor smallholder farmers. Malawi consumes about 170 kg maize per capita/year which constitutes more than two thirds of the caloric consumption, the highest proportion in the world. The continuous cropping of maize has led to mining of soil nutrients and declining soil fertility. Together with small farm size, soil degradation and erosion continue to be serious threats to future productivity.

Grain legumes form an important component of Malawi’s maize-based farming systems. Beans and pigeon pea, for example, are mostly intercropped with maize and other cereal crops. Maize and pigeon pea intercropping is a common practice especially in southern Malawi where average land-holdings are small. Both maize and pigeonpea are grown on ridges which are generally spaced 90 cm apart, with 75-90 cm between plants on the ridge.


Mozambique has a substantial area of maize (1.4 million hectares), producing only 1.2 million tonnes of maize per year because of low average yields (0.85 tonnes per hectare in 2007) with high variability. Despite ample land, soil fertility is low, and research and extension capacity and infrastructure are weak. Agriculture in Mozambique also faces stiff competition from low soil fertility, recurrent droughts and floods, use of unimproved varieties, lack of access to good quality inputs, as well as dysfunctional agricultural markets, and weak research and extension services. As a result, the country is regularly hit by devastating food and nutrition crises.


Tanzania has the largest area (3.0 million hectares) of maize in the sub–region. Maize is an important food and cash crop in the country. Over 80 percent of the population depends on maize with per capita consumption of around 100 kilogram per year. The crop occupies more that 40 percent of the total cultivated area and accounts for up to 61 percent of the total calories in the diets as well as 50 percent of utilizable protein for the majority of the Tanzanian rural population. The national average yield is about 1.2 tonnes per hectare compared to an average potential yield of 4.5 tonnes per hectare. The main constraints of the Tanzanian maize sub-sector are low productivity caused by diseases, insects, low soil fertility, moisture stress, and weeds especially Striga. Socioeconomic constraints include unreliable input and output markets, lack of credit facilities and poor infrastructure Maize cropping systems in Tanzania are characterized by maize mono-cropping (about 30 percent) and intercropping of maize and legumes (about 70 percent). The maize/pigeonpea system is common in the Northern and Eastern zones while maize/cowpea/bean system is dominant in Lake and Western zones. Maize/mucuna cover crop system is also practiced in the Northern zone.

Funded by

Ethiopia Kenya Malawi Mozambique Tanzania
© Copyright. CIMMYT is supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA)

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)
P.O. Box MP 163,
Mount Pleasant Harare, Zimbabwe
Phone numbers in Zimbabwe:
+263 (772) 465 211/212
Fax: +263 (4) 301 327