Project Brief

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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 people in Africa depend on it as their main food source – but too often 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 present a challenge for smallholder maize farmers in Africa, who have little or no resources to effectively manage them. During drought, maize that is able to survive becomes particularly susceptible to pests. These insects negatively impact yields, because they reduce maize plant’s ability to use the limited water and nutrients. In some cases, farmers effectively lose the whole crop.

Protecting maize against drought and insect damage

Maize is the most widely grown food crop in Africa and its production is severely affected by drought and insect-pests, which negatively impact yields leading to crop failure, hunger and poverty

Identifying ways of mitigating drought risk, insect-pest pressure,  stabilising yields, and encouraging smallholder farmers to adopt  best management practices, is fundamental to realising food  security and improving livelihoods in the continent. Drought tolerance has been recognised by the United  Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization as one of the  most important targets of crop improvement programmes,  and biotechnology has been identified as a powerful tool to  achieve significant drought tolerance.

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) is a public- private partnership that is developing drought-tolerant and  insect-pest protected maize hybrids, with the aim of improving  yields under moderate drought stress and protecting it from  insect damage. The long-term goal is to deploy these new  varieties and make them available to smallholder farmers  royalty-free through local African seed companies.

Project goal

The WEMA partnership was formed in response to a growing  call by African farmers, leaders, and scientists to address the effects of drought and insect-pest pressure in a cost effective way for smallholder farmers in Africa.

Developing drought tolerant and insect pest protected maize

  • WEMA uses three breeding approaches: conventional; marker assisted; and genetic  modification.
  • The project focuses on developing, field testing and deploying new maize hybrids in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.
  • The new maize hybrids will be assessed by national authorities according to their regulatory requirements.
  • All WEMA maize hybrids will be made available to smallholder farmers through  local seed companies across Sub-Saharan Africa.  
  • Seed companies will not pay royalties for WEMA hybrids in order to make them more affordable for farmers.
  • The first WEMA conventional maize hybrid WE1101 was made available to farmers in Kenya in 2013. New hybrids will be available in Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa in 2015. WEMA conventional hybrids are being traded under the brand name DroughtTEGO™.
  • Transgenic drought‐tolerant and insect-pest protected hybrids will be available thereafter depending on research results and regulatory approvals in each of the WEMA countries.
  • WEMA uses breeding materials contributed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center’s Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project, Monsanto Company and national agricultural research systems.
  • Seed companies, government agencies, farmer groups and other relevant organisations will ensure access by farmers to WEMA hybrids.

Expected benefits of using drought-tolerant and insect-pest protected maize

  • Protecting maize against climate change and insect damage is expected to increase yields by 20-35 percent in moderate drought conditions
  • Will provide an additional two million tonnes of maize that could feed 14 – 21 million people in the long-term
  • A more reliable harvest will give farmers the confidence to invest in their farms and improve farming practices
  • More reliable harvests with better grain quality due to reduced insect damage
  • Reduced need for pesticide because the seed is insect-pest protected bringing environmental and human health benefits

WEMA Project Partnership


Project activities are funded by:

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