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Subsidies promote use of drought tolerant maize varieties despite variable yield performance under smallholder environments in Malawi

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S.T. Holden
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This study used a three-year panel dataset for 350 Malawian farm households to examine the potential for widespread adoption of drought tolerant (DT) maize varieties, a technology that holds considerable promise for helping smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) adapt to drought risk. Regression results revealed that DT maize cultivation increased substantially from 2006 to 2012, with the main driver being the Malawi Farm Input Subsidy Program. Recently experienced drought and farmer risk aversion stimulated adoption of DT maize. In yield performance, improved maize varieties performed significantly better than local maize during the 2011/12 drought year. However, DT maize did not perform significantly better than other improved maize varieties used in Malawi, which is in contradiction to results obtained from on-station and on-farm trials. A plausible explanation is that the severe drought in Malawi in the 2011/12 season occurred early in the rainy season and DT maize primarily provides an advantage in the case of late droughts during the silking/grain filling stage of the crop. Preliminary results herein suggest that it was lack of rainfall in December 2011 that constrained maize yield while rainfall in January and February was less limiting. Additionally, the length of the longest dry spells in December and February further strengthens the evidence in favor of this explanation, but further research is needed to reach a conclusion.