Project overview

Hunger and poverty, worsened by drought, are persistent challenges in Eastern and Southern Africa. But, improved maize-legume varieties will benefit farmers most if grown under the best agronomic practices. Using smallholder farmers’ limited resources more efficiently is a key to achieving their potential. Sustainable intensification is focused on increasing food production from existing farmland while minimizing pressure on the environment.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT)’s Sustainable Intensification of Maize-Legume Cropping Systems for Food Security in Eastern and Southern Africa (SIMLESA) is an eight-year food security program supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Launched in 2010, the program is managed by CIMMYT and implemented by national agricultural research systems in five partner countries: Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

With lessons learned from these core countries, the program is also implemented in three spillover countries: Botswana, Rwanda and Uganda. Among the implementing partners are the University of Queensland (Australia), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC South Africa), which will contribute to science and capacity building.

The main thrust of the SIMLESA program is increasing farm-level food security, productivity and incomes through promotion of maize-legume intercropping systems in the context of reduced climate risk and change. Through participatory research and development with farmers, extension agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities and agribusinesses along the value chains, the program aims to improve maize and legume productivity by 30% and to reduce the expected yield risk by 30 % on approximately 650,000 farm households by 2023.

Also, the program has laid the foundation for developing CA-based sustainable intensification options, including integration of improved maize and legume varieties identified for their compatibility with CA-based practices; promoting technology adoption by both female and male farmers; capacity building for national agricultural research systems of partner countries; creating enhanced partnerships and collaboration with established innovation platforms for coordinated scaling-out of SIMLESA-generated options and practices.

Considered a flagship program, SIMLESA is being adopted by donors as a framework for sustainable intensification. SIMLESA has significantly contributed to the generation and adoption of user-preferred maize and legume varieties, and has provided information and knowledge that improve system productivity and profitability of target farming systems. SIMLESA’s unique contributions (in terms of resource allocations, human capacity development and research facilities to improve the efficiency and impact of agricultural research) is highly recognized by the program’s national agricultural research systems partners.

Key highlights from the SIMLESA program

    •  SIMLESA, in collaboration with sister programs like the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) and ICRISAT/Tropical Legumes-II and private companies in respective countries, facilitated the release of several maize varieties; 40 new maize varieties, which have yield advantages of 10 to 30 % when compared to existing commercial varieties in its program countries.


    •  Considering the importance of legume in food security, a total of 378 legumes based participatory varietal selections (PVSs) were conducted across the five program countries. The farmers had a chance to incorporate their criteria into the variety selection processes, giving a sense of the ownership of the results and therefore improving scaling out and adoption of the community endorsed varieties.


    •  A total of 64 legume varieties across the five program countries positively met PVS team’s criteria and therefore were selected for official release.


    •  A total of 58 Innovation Platforms were established to assist in scaling out of SI technologies and viable marketing of agricultural produce for maximum benefits.


  •  Toward the end of 2016, the program managed to competitively select 19 partners to drive the scaling out initiative under the Competitive Grants Scheme (CGS) and support visits undertaken in some of the selected partners are confirming impressive work being done.

SIMLESA activities also led to the identification of maize varieties compatible with intercropping systems, water conservation and labor savings from CA technologies, while superior maize and legume yields from rotations in CA were realized in all five countries across Eastern and Southern Africa. The positive impacts of CA practices on risk, incomes and the environment were also analyzed and disseminated, while innovation platforms and other strategies contributed to scaling-out, with maize-legume sustainable intensification technologies being adopted by over 235,000 farmers (148,000 males, 148,000 females) by end of 2016.

SIMLESA Objectives

During the first phase of the project (2010-2014), the SIMLESA project was implemented under the following five fundamental thematic areas, called objectives:

Objective 1: To characterize maize-legume production and input and output value chain systems and impact pathways, and identify broad systemic constraints and options for field testing.

Objective 2: To test and develop productive, resilient and sustainable smallholder maize-legume cropping systems and innovation systems for local scaling out

Objective 3: To test and develop productive, resilient and sustainable smallholder maize-legume cropping systems and innovation systems for local scaling out

Objective 4: To support the development of regional and local innovations systems

Objective 5: Capacity building to increase the efficiency of agricultural research today and in the future

SIMLESA 11 was launched on the 1 July 2014 with modified project themes (objectives) detailed below:

Objective 1: Enhance the understanding of CA-based sustainable intensification for maize-legume production systems, value chains and impact pathways. The research methods will combine qualitative analysis of existing and new data as well as information gathered from wider consultations with stakeholders. The market analysis will employ standard and established methods for value chain analysis and estimation of transaction costs.

Objective 2: To test and adapt productive, resilient and scalable CA-based intensification options for sustainable smallholder maize-legume production systems. Continues on-farm and on-station research of SIMLESA 1 on CA-based sustainable intensification in the same sites. The teams and activities will be expanded through an additional focus on fodder/forage varieties in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, and new research on soil health focusing on the identification and rehabilitation of non-responsive soils and the development of nutrient management systems. Given the focus of Objective 2 on an adaptive process of identification and testing of improved CA-based systems agronomy and value chain practices/technologies, an innovation systems approach was initiated under SIMLESA 1 and will be continued in phase 11.

Objective 3: To increase the range of maize, legume and fodder/forage varieties available to smallholder farmers. A shortlist of new experimental maize and legume varieties (all countries) and forage/fodder species/varieties (in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania) with potential adaptation to the conditions and farmers’ needs will be identified by NARS for each country and targeted maize-legume system. Maize and legume varieties will mostly originate from on-going breeding programs such as Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa. Significant progress has been made in developing and registering of drought tolerant maize and legume varieties, which are starting to be produced and disseminated by seed companies and community based seed organizations.

Objective 4: To support the development of local and regional agricultural innovation systems and scaling-out platforms. A number of policy options and organizational models for the delivery of CA-based intensification options will be developed. Activities will include the formulation and advocacy of policy options to address institutional constraints for CA-based intensification options in terms of reach, farmer use and sustainability.

Objective 5: Capacity building to increase the efficiency of agricultural research today and in the future. The project will use short courses, workshops, field days and exchange visits in support of the project agenda, and free online courses in topics that are relevant to SIMLESA. Capacity building will be targeted at project scientists and technical staff in partner organizations, and will include researchers, extension agents, the private sector and farmers.

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