By Mark Edge
In Africa, food is scarce and smallholder farmers, most of them women with very limited resources, struggle each year to harvest crops to feed their families. Africa is prone to drought, so year after year these farmers don’t know if their crops will survive or if their families will have enough to eat.
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a nonprofit that partners with public and private organizations to put advanced resources and tools into the hands of farmers in Africa, reached out to us six years ago on a new initiative. Called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), the goal of the public/private partnership is to deliver maize seeds that can help farmers in Africa to produce more food, more consistently.
Maize is Africa’s staple crop, and one that’s very susceptible to drought. Together with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and national agricultural research organizations in the five WEMA partner countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa), we used conventional seed breeding and biotechnology to develop maize seeds more tolerant of drought, to have a better chance to grow in periods with low water and high temperatures. We’re helping the partnership to create multiple varieties, the first of which is now being distributed royalty-free to smallholder farmers in Kenya through the AATF for harvest in early 2014.
I’d like to congratulate the AATF on their invaluable work for farmers in Africa and on a successful six-year-old partnership that is still growing – literally. I look forward to seeing the results of the upcoming harvest. If all goes as planned with this harvest and the future crops in the five partner countries, approximately 14-21 million people could be fed, a truly remarkable step in the fight against hunger.
This step couldn’t be taken without multiple parties coming together, pooling resources and using all of the tools we have available, including technology. I’m proud of our contribution to this critically important project, and I hope that the WEMA example carries over to other areas of the world, so we can continue to share the benefits of innovation with those who need it most.