Diseases and pests are among the major constraints limiting maize productivity in the smallholder (SH) farming sector of sub-Saharan Africa. The objectives of this study were therefore, to determine how SH farmers perceive and cope with diseases and pests, identify with farmersother constraints to maize production. Data were collected from three villages of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province in South Africa using surveys and participatory rural appraisal (PRA) methodology. Local maize varieties were further evaluated for disease resistance and grain yield potential at two locations in KZN. Cob rots, grey leaf spot (GLS), maize streak virus (MSV), northern leaf blight (NLB), phaeosphaeria leaf spot (PLS) and common rust were the main diseases identified by farmers, but their incidence was low and occurrence infrequent. More than 75% of the farmers did not control both insect pests and diseases, while the rest used chemicals or everyday household remedies for control. Stalk borers and cutworms were the most prevalent insect pests, where as drought, excessive rains, hail storms, and soil fertility were the most important abiotic constraints identified. Field trial results of local varieties indicated high yield potential and genetic variability for disease resistance to PLS, GLS, and NLB. These findings suggest that; if the main production constraints are addressed, farmers could realize high yields from their local varieties. Breeding opportunities, therefore, exist for incorporating resistance or tolerance to these stresses into the local varieties.
Key words: Maize, diseases, pests, constraints, breeding, smallholder farmers.
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