The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project – an international private-public partnership – show cased new insect-protected maize hybrids earlier this month in Gatyana (Willowvale) in the Eastern Cape. The programme aims to enhance food security and improve rural livelihoods among smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa through development and deployment of drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize hybrids.
The WEMA project started in 2008 and is led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) based in Kenya, and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G Buffet Foundation and USAID. Other partners include: Monsanto Company, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and National Agricultural Research Systems of Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa (ARC), Tanzania and Uganda.
Earlier this week WEMA partners visited smallholder farmers in the Eastern Cape and presented an Information day which was hosted and funded by the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), in collaboration with the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform (DRDAR). The ARC and DRDAR planted maize demonstration plots comprised of five TELATM brand Bt (MON89034) maize hybrids that have been submitted by ARC to DAFF for registration. Some 2kg promotional packs of the Bt hybrids had been distributed to smallholder farmers for on-farm trials.
“The Eastern Cape is one of the hot spot provinces for stalk borer, which is also associated with high levels of ear rots and the associated mycotoxins which can cause oesophageal cancer. It is therefore one of the prime target provinces for deployment of the royalty-free WEMA Bt technology,” said Mark Edge, Director of WEMA Partnerships – Monsanto, one of the WMA partner companies.
The WEMA partners have developed the largest conventional breeding and regulated testing network for maize in Africa and the partnership helps build technical capacity in Africa to use conventional and molecular breeding as well as biotechnology.
“Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa, where more than 300 million people depend on it as their main food source every day. Half of all global population growth between now and 2050 will likely take place in Africa and according to the United Nations, the continent’s population could more than double by mid-century, to 2.4 billion people,” said Edge.
But natural phenomena such as droughts, crop diseases and insect pests are making crop production quite difficult on the continent. These disasters had a significant impact in many countries in 2015 and caused yield losses in maize in many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, leading to supply shortages.
“Agricultural technology can help smallholder farmers in Africa increase their incomes and improve their yields and so meet the challenges of crop production and manage risks so that they can achieve self-sufficiency and even prosperity.
“Commercial approaches are the most sustainable in meeting farmers’ needs; but today many farmers have needs that can’t be met through commercial channels. A more developmental approach is adopted, where farmers are assisted to move from subsistence farming to commercial farming. Appropriate farming solutions of seed, fertilser, training, microcredit and marketing support are provided to them by a consortia of partners,” she said.
Monsanto is a technology provider in several such collaborations. In special situations where a humanitarian approach is best, the Monsanto fund, the charitable division of the company, provides financial support to community projects focused on improving nutrition through increased agricultural productivity.
“We are proud to be part of WEMA. We are providing the technology royalty-free to develop improved maize varieties that will be available to seed companies in Africa for distribution to farmers in project countries and is also delivering the maize seed genetics and technical knowledge for breeding efforts,” said Edge.
The initiative also demonstrated the correct way of planting refugia, demonstrated WEMA drought tolerant and insect protected maize hybrids. The WEMA partners had an opportunity to interact with smallholder farmers who planted the Bt hybrids in 2016/17 and highlighted the need for the funders to support smallholder farmers.
“The initiative aims to increase and stabilise maize production and food self-sufficiency at the household level and, provide access appropriate technologies such as drought tolerant maize varieties in the WEMA project countries,” said Edge.
WEMA products are drought tolerant conventional and transgenic (GM) hybrids that give at least 25% yield advantage, compared to commercially available hybrids when the project started in 2008, under moderate drought conditions.
“This yield benefit will be further protected by the inclusion of Monsanto’s Bt transgenic event (MON 89034) to confer resistance to stem borers. This will increase and stabilise maize production and food self-sufficiency at the household level,” said Edge.
WEMA is approaching its tenth year and remains on target to provide additional tools to help improve food security. The pipeline is full and delivering many new and improved drought-tolerant maize hybrids for farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Beginning in 2013, smallholder farmers in Kenya had access to the first conventional maize hybrid from the WEMA partnership sold under the brand name
DroughtTEGO™, and now hybrids are being commercialized in the five WEMA countries. Many farmers have begun to report increased yields for their harvest. Many of those farmers have previously used local OPVs (open-pollinated varieties).