Expanding white maize output will depend primarily on increases in yields, which in turn will require farmers to adopt new technology. From an environmental point of view, in many countries increases in maize yields on better land are preferable to expanding maize cultivation into more marginal areas. The use of improved seed-fertilizer technology remains patchy in many developing countries growing white maize, as does the use of more sophisticated, management-intensive technologies. For new technologies to be available to farmers, dynamic agricultural research programmes that take into account the needs of client farmers, as well as extension services that work actively with farmers as they learn about new methods of maize cultivation, are necessary. Nonetheless, around the world research and extension budgets are shrinking in real terms at both the national and international levels.
Some of the problems with the uptake of improved maize varieties and hybrids have resulted from insufficient appreciation of farmer preferences and circumstances in the development of these materials. Worldwide, however, the greatest constraint to the diffusion of better germplasm to farmers has been the failure of seed industries to evolve to meet the needs of a wide variety of growers.
Debate has often centred on the relative appropriateness of public and private sector investment in research and development, production and marketing, and the competitive aspect of the public/private sector relationship has been stressed. More innovative approaches are necessary. These should recognize the likelihood that public and private sectors can be complementary, that their roles may evolve over time, and that other types of actors, such as farmer groups and non-governmental organizations, may provide useful services.
Innovative ways of expanding the scope of crop management research are also needed, so that the costs of developing both productivity-enhancing and resource-conserving technologies are reduced. Across the maize-growing developing world, the management of soils and soil fertility is the most pressing crop management issue at present. The knowledge base concerning the maintenance of soil organic matter in the tropics, under smallholder conditions, must be considerably expanded. Similarly, both agricultural and policy research directed at more efficient use of inorganic fertilizers is necessary. Particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the need to make fertilizer use more efficient is urgent because of high fertilizer prices.
In many countries, considerable variation in farm size and methods of cultivation exist among different groups of farmers. Agricultural research and policy must address the question of the relative emphasis to be given to the very small, intermediate or large farmer groups. This question is complicated by the fact that both average farm size and inequality of resource distribution vary widely from country to country, so that policies have to be adapted to the specific set of economic and social parameters characterizing a country.
The answers to these problems are likely to be complicated, but the importance of white maize as a starchy staple warrants concerted efforts to solve them. Without complementarity of policy reform and technology development, white maize production in many developing countries is likely to fall further behind demand growth, making them more dependent on an international market characterized by a high degree of volatility.