Three-quarters of the world’s most severe droughts over the past 10 years have occurred in Africa, making farming risky for millions of smallholder farmers, most of whom are women and rely on rainfall to water their crops. Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa – more than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source. Maize production is severely affected by drought, which can lead to unpredictable and low yields, and at worst, complete crop failure.
Like drought, insects present another challenge to African farmers who often have few resources to manage them. During drought, maize that is able to survive becomes particularly susceptible to pests, especially stem borers. This can have an even further impact on farmers’ ability to grow and harvest enough maize to feed their families.
About the Project: WEMA
The Water Efficient Maize for Africa project (WEMA) is a public/private partnership, led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and USAID.
It was created with a goal to enhance food security in Sub-Saharan Africa through developing and deploying drought-tolerant maize royalty-free to the smallholder farmers. Insect-protection is complementary to the efforts of developing more drought-tolerant maize varieties and will also be available royalty-free. This increased yield stability has the potential to help reduce hunger and improve the livelihood of millions of Africans.
Map: Countries participating in WEMA
New varieties are being developed to increase yields under moderate drought and insect pressure, compared to varieties available to farmers when the project started in 2008.
WEMA is in its seventh year and the AATF announced promising results from the first harvest of seed developed conventionally (non-biotech) through the partnership. Smallholder farmers in Kenya had access to the first WEMA hybrid (WE1101, which is being sold under the brand name DroughtTEGOTM). Pending research and development results and regulatory approvals in each of the WEMA countries, drought-tolerant and insect-protected varieties developed using both advanced breeding and transgenic approaches could be available to farmers in the future.
The improvements could produce an estimated 2 million additional tons of food enough to feed 14 to 21 million people. Harvest gains could also be sold to increase incomes and give farmers confidence to invest in improved farming practices.
Monsanto contributions include providing maize germplasm to enable the breeding efforts, offering technical expertise to develop and deploy locally adapted maize hybrids, and donating its commercial drought-tolerance and insect-protection traits royalty-free to all seed companies in Africa.
About the Partners
The partners in the project are also contributing technology, time, and expertise.
- African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is a nonprofit organization designed to facilitate and promote public/private partnerships to access, develop and deliver agricultural technologies for use by resource-limited small scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- National agricultural research organizations:
- International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is a nonprofit research and training center with the mission to increase the productivity of maize and wheat systems to ensure global food security and reduce poverty.
The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAID.