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Maize varietal replacement in Eastern and Southern Africa: bottlenecks, drivers and strategies for improvement

Seed security is vital for food security. Rapid-cycle, climate-adaptive breeding programs and seed systems that deliver new, elite varieties to farmers to replace obsolete ones can greatly improve the productivity of maize-based cropping systems in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Despite the importance and benefits of accelerated varietal turnover to climate change adaptation and food security, the rate of maize varietal replacement in SSA is slow. This review outlines the major bottlenecks, drivers, risks, and benefits of active replacement of maize varieties in eastern and southern Africa (ESA) and highlights strategies that are critical to varietal turnover. Although there is an upsurge of new seed companies in ESA and introduction of new varieties with better genetics in the market, some established seed companies continue to sell old (over 15-year-old) varieties. Several recently developed maize hybrids in ESA have shown significant genetic gains under farmers’ conditions. Empirical evidence also shows that timely replacement of old products results in better business success as it helps seed companies maintain or improve market share and brand relevance. Therefore, proactive management of product life cycles by seed companies benefits both the farmers and businesses alike, contributing to improved food security and adaptation to the changing climate.