By Mark Edge
Monsanto WEMA Project Lead
Maize continues to be the most widely grown staple crop in Africa, with more than 300 million people depending on it as their main food source.
Maize farming in Africa, however, is not without its risks – especially for millions of smallholder farmers who have limited resources and technologies to take on agricultural challenges presented by droughts and insect pests. Food security is constantly at risk with the potential of maize production ending with low yields or even crop failures, which contribute to hunger and poverty. Fortunately, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) was formed five years ago to help improve lives through the development of products that help smallholder farmers mitigate drought risk and manage insect pressure.
Initiated in 2008 and led by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), WEMA is a public/private partnership funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAID. WEMA key partners include the National Agricultural Research Institutes in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and Monsanto.
I’ve recently become the Monsanto WEMA Project Lead. I’m pleased to join Monsanto people who have year after year worked vigorously with the WEMA teams to assist with the breeding, testing, product advancement, deployment, and communication to get these improved products royalty-free into the hands of smallholder farmers in Africa.
Earlier this month, I attended an annual WEMA project review and planning meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. I’m happy to report that the WEMA partnership is stronger than ever and we’re looking forward to continuing on our path of success. We have a big milestone in front of us – by the end of 2013, a WEMA conventional maize hybrid will be available for commercial planting in Kenya. Additionally, depending on research results in each of the WEMA countries, we expect a pipeline of new drought-tolerant hybrid varieties to be ready for the subsequent season in several countries. This will give smallholder farmers the first chance to plant high quality drought tolerant hybrids on their farms.
As I looking forward at the task ahead for WEMA, I believe an AATF staff member put it best when he shared the following African proverb at the annual meeting: “An elephant’s tusks are never too heavy for it.”
Within a few years, pending regulatory approval, we expect to introduce royalty-free insect-protected and drought-tolerant biotechnologies to provide more tools for smallholder farmers in Africa to manage risk and increase food security.
Related: A video by AATF on Water-Efficient Maize for Africa.