Our experience with innovation from working on our core crops of corn, cotton, canola and soy have applications that can be transferred to address critical food sources in other parts of the world, especially Africa. Our people have shared technology across multiple crops and countries along with expert technical advice. We have also partnered with public research centers to help improve yields and pest resistance of staple crops that are critical for certain areas of Africa.
Virus Resistant Cassava
Cassava is one of the most important staple food crops for more than 200 million sub-Saharan Africans. In the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi and Malawi, approximately 130 million people depend on this crop, and farmers produce nearly 30 metric tons annually.
Despite cassava’s natural drought tolerance and ability to flourish on marginal lands, it is very susceptible to various pathogens and virus diseases. In fact, the popular Ebwanateraka cassava has been virtually wiped out of production due to cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and cassava mosaic disease (CMD). Monsanto is partnering with the Danforth Plant Science Center, the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to apply biotechnology to develop cassava varieties with increased resistance to CBSD and CMD. The project is supported by the Monsanto Fund and our partners at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
To date, no conventional sources of resistance to CBSD have been identified, so biotechnology may provide the best solution for preventing the spread of this devastating disease. We believe the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project will improve the lives of millions of people by allowing them not only to grow adequate food, but increase productivity so farmers will have the funds needed to educate their children and afford good medical care. The Monsanto Fund has committed $5.4 million dollars beyond our initial five-year commitment of $7.5 million to the first phase of the project. Along with funding from our partners, the VIRCA project has received over $11.9 million to finance the second phase of this important effort.
The Danforth Plant Science Center, in conjunction with the National Crop Research Institute, Uganda, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture are leading this project to improve the health and wellbeing of farmers, their families and other consumers of cassava.
These enhanced cassava cultivars created by the VIRCA project will be readily available to farmers in the same way traditional cassava is being offered currently. This means farmers will be able to freely multiply, save and share their planting materials.
Cowpea – A Key Protein Source for West Africa
Cowpea is considered the most important food grain legume in the dry savannas of Africa. The cowpea is rich in protein and is an important crop for both tackling malnutrition and adapting to climate change as it tolerates hot, dry conditions.
This crop is grown on more than 12.5 million hectares of land and is a good source of food for livestock and provides good cash incomes for farmers. Unfortunately, infestation by the Maruca vitrata pod borer has led to yield losses of up to 80 percent and most farmers do not have access to effective insecticides.
The not-for-profit African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is addressing the problem with the following strategies:
- Accessing specific genes to protect cowpea against the Maruca pod borer
- Facilitating licensing agreements and regulatory compliance for development
- Providing product stewardship for responsible and sustainable use of the enhanced seeds
We are proud to partner with the Network for the Genetic Improvement of Cowpea for Africa, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research of Australia, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, the Kirkhouse Trust and several others to promote technological interventions that will help improve cowpea productivity and in doing so, improve the diet and income of smallholder farmers throughout Africa. Monsanto supports innovation sharing to give farmers enhanced tools and knowledge and the company has donated intellectual property to the project on a humanitarian basis under a royalty-free license.
This article is excerpted from Monsanto’s 2012Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability Report. To view the full report, please visit Monsanto.com.