It’s National FFA Week, and recently, Monsanto welcomed 75 State FFA Officers from the U.S. into one of its facilities outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. As part of the visit, the State Officers learned about the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) program. The program is a public-private partnership dedicated to increasing food security in Sub-Saharan Africa through the development and distribution of drought-tolerant and insect-resistant maize seed. Taylor Green is one of the State Officers who participated in the visit.
Cultivating Corn for the Future
By Taylor Green
The need to produce more food for more people is growing every day, and I was excited to see this challenge be taken head on at one of Monsanto’s breeding sites where they develop Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) hybrids as part of partnership led by an African NGO with African scientists. At this site, located outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, our group of 75 State FFA Officers met with Mr. Kiru Pillay and Mr. Richard Fly. Mr. Fly, one of the junior plant breeders, shared the plant breeding methods they implement as well as how progressive South African farmers are about this technology. I was glad to hear about the forward-thinking attitudes of the farmers. Acceptance of this seed technology means that more of it will be planted, and hybrid seeds helped South Africa have a record crop last year.
Next, we met with Mr. Pillay, a plant breeder for the WEMA site, and he shared the process of product development in this public-private partnership. The first five years of product development are focused on research, both in plant breeding and biotechnology. The next five years focus on trait integration and extensive testing before the seeds are provided to seed companies and farmers. Drought caused 67% of corn crop losses from 1948 to 1992. This shows just how important it is to develop a seed with strong drought tolerance. One of the unique parts about the WEMA project is that the genetics and traits of the finished products are licensed to African-based seed companies royalty-free to benefit smallholder farmers across Africa. This helps develop a vibrant seed system in Africa where farmers have many choices.
As FFA members and agriculturalists, we value the advances being made to feed 9.6 billion people by 2050 and to improve food security around the world. The visit to the Monsanto WEMA site was reassuring that farmers around the world are passionate and progressive about their practices and I cannot wait to see what they will achieve next.