The difficulty of choosing appropriate selection environments has restricted breeding progress for drought tolerance in highly-variable target environments. Genotype-by-environment interactions in southern African maize-growing environments result from factors related to maximum temperature, seasonal rainfall, season length, within season drought, subsoil pH and socio-economic factors that result in sub-optimal input application. In 1997 CIMMYT initiated a product-oriented breeding program targeted at improving maize for the drought-prone mid-altitudes of southern Africa. Maize varieties were selected in Zimbabwe using simultaneous selection in three types of environments, (i) recommended agronomic management/high rainfall conditions, (ii) low N stress, and (iii) managed drought. Between 2000 and 2002, 41 hybrids from this approach were compared with 42 released and prereleased hybrids produced by private seed companies in 36-65 trials across eastern and southern Africa. Average trial yields ranged from less than 1 t/ha to above 10 t/ha. Hybrids from CIMMYT’s stress breeding program showed a consistent advantage over private company check hybrids at all yield levels. Selection differentials were largest between 2 to 5 t/ha and they became less significant at higher yield levels. An Eberhart-Russell stability analysis estimated a 40% yield advantage at the 1-ton yield level which decreased to 2.5% at the 10-ton yield level. We conclude that including selection under carefully managed high priority abiotic stresses, including drought, in a breeding program and with adequate weighing can significantly increase maize yields in a highly variable drought-prone environment and particularly at lower yield levels.