An emerging maize market
improves livelihoods in

Commercial, hybrid maize production is spreading quickly in Nepal. CIMMYT is organizing and training farmers, and has created a network that brings together feed millers, seed dealers, banks and financial institutions, and local and provincial governments. The network is facilitating investing in the commercial maize value chain, setting and adopting standards and facilitating new market linkages for grains produced by smallholder farmers. Smallholders are taking part, including women, harvesting more and improving their livelihoods.

A CIMMYT project, Nepal Seed and Fertilizer (NSAF), is helping smallholders, including women, get into the business of growing maize to sell to feed mills. Nepal currently uses about 540,000 tons of maize to make poultry feed every year. Since 80% of this grain is imported, there is plenty of demand to produce maize locally. The Terai lowlands of Nepal could provide about 40% of this maize, by planting in the spring, when most land lies fallow. Feed millers and seed companies were encouraging farmers to plant spring maize as early as 2020.

However, to seize this opportunity, some changes needed to be made. A CIMMYT review found needs for extension, marketing, finance and the alignment of government policy. By 2021, CIMMYT was training extensionists and lead farmers in crop and soil management, and co-financing farmer investment in tools and equipment. CIMMYT set up the Maize Commercialization Model (MCM), that included a network for stakeholders. Local and provincial government officials who attended MCM meetings were encouraged to implement their own programs with stakeholders. Traders and feed millers were urged to share market standards and prices with each other. CIMMYT used a systems approach to engage these different value chain actors meaningfully.

By 2022, training had been given to 2,260 households from 65 farmer cooperatives, from 19 municipalities across Nepal. Farmers began to buy hybrid seed and apply recommended rates of chemical fertilizer, while adopting advice on weeding, irrigation, and pest management. In 2022, these farmers produced 3,232 tons of maize on 548 hectares, an average yield of 5.9 tons, more than twice the national average of 2.5 tons.

In 2022, project farmers earned $900,000 from maize, an average of $367 per household. Thirty-five percent of the project farmers were women. “It has been gratifying to see the changes in farmers’ lives in such a short time”, says Dyutiman Choudhary, a scientist in market development and coordinator of the NSAF project. “Having a few hundred dollars extra per year from engaging in commercial maize farming allows some of the women farmers to think beyond satisfying basic household needs. They now find it much easier to buy medicine, as well as shoes, uniforms and notebooks, so their kids can go to school.”

Millers were pleased that the Nepali maize met international standards. Bumper harvests required more storage space. A farmers’ cooperative in Raptisonari municipality built a new storage unit, with 75% of the funding coming from the provincial government. A trader in Bardiya constructed another maize store, with his own funds. Traders and millers began to invest in improvements to keep the maize dry, such as concrete floors and electric fans. Buyers started to take vehicles into the maize-producing areas, looking for smallholders with maize to sell. Farmers also kept about 15% of their maize harvest, to eat at home, and to feed to their livestock.

Government policy is also starting to align with the growing interest in maize. In 2022, nine local governments invested $2.37 million in the maize value chain.

Nepal’s demand for maize was matched by the possibility of planting in the spring fallows of the Terai lowlands. CIMMYT seized this opportunity, with farmer training, and by helping some groups buy equipment, while linking public and private actors into a network that could invest in the fast-growing market for commercial maize.

During field day, women farmers use a mini tiller for direct seeding maize in Ramghat, Surkhet, Nepal. ©Peter Lowe / CIMMYT.

Farmer Dhanmaya Pakhrin and her neighbors Sharada Lopchan and Kranti Tamang shelling hybrid maize on her verandah in Rambasti, Kanchanpur, Nepal. ©Peter Lowe / CIMMYT.

Nepal currently uses about 540,000 tons of maize to make poultry feed every year.

By 2022, training had been given to 2,260 households from 65 farmer cooperatives, from 19 municipalities across Nepal.