Africa is a drought-prone continent, making farming risky for millions of smallholder farmers who rely on rainfall to water their crops. Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa – more than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source – and it is severely affected by frequent drought. Drought leads to crop failure, hunger, and poverty. Climate change will only worsen the problem. Like drought, insects - particularly stem borers - present a challenge to smallholder farmers in Sub–Saharan Africa, as they have little to no resources to effectively manage them. This can have a negative impact on yields, particularly during times of drought. These insects feed on the surviving maize and reduce the plant’s ability to use limited water and nutrients. Farmers can experience complete crop loss when drought and insects combine in the field.
Drought tolerance has been recognised as one of the most important targets of crop improvement programs, and biotechnology has been identified as a powerful tool to achieve significant drought tolerance by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Identifying ways to mitigate drought risk and insect pressure, stabilise yields, and encourage smallholder farmers to adopt best management practices is fundamental to realising food security and improved livelihoods for the continent.
AATF is coordinating a public-private partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) to develop drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize using conventional breeding, marker-assisted breeding, and biotechnology, with a goal to make these varieties available royalty-free to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa through African seed companies. The benefits and safety of the maize varieties will be assessed by national authorities according to the regulatory requirements in the partner countries: Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.