Here comes drought-tolerant hybrid maize varieties

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On January 10 this year, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project in Tanzania, in collaboration with the Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and the Ministry for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperative through its department of Research Development (DRD) demonstrated new three drought tolerant hybrid maize varieties to seed companies. Correspondent, GERALD KITABU interviewed WEMA project manager, Dr. Sylvester Oikeh, on various issues concerning the project. Excerpts:

QUESTION: Briefly tell us about yourself and the WEMA project.
ANSWER: I am the WEMA Project Manager at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). As a scientist I interested in research for development and particularly passionate about seeing innovative technologies transforming the lives of smallholder farmers in Africa.

WEMA is Water Efficient Maize for Africa. It is a public-private partnership project that aims to enhance food security in Sub-Saharan Africa through the development and deployment of drought-tolerant and insect-pest protected maize varieties to smallholder farmers. The project is implemented in five countries: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.

In Tanzania, the Tanzania Commission of Science and Technology (COSTECH) is part of the WEMA partnership and focused on developing, field testing and deploying new varieties of maize in collaboration with the department of research and development (DRD) of the Ministry of Agriculture Food Security and Cooperatives.

Q: You recently released three types of drought tolerant maize seeds, why maize seeds and not any others?

A: The Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) approved in December 2013 for commercial release of the three drought-tolerant maize hybrids: WE2109, WE2112, and WE2113 out of the five hybrids submitted by WEMA project to TOSCI for National Performance Trials.

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. Maize is severely affected by frequent drought and irregular rainfall, which leads to crop failure, hunger, and poverty. Climate change is likely to worsen the problem.

Q: What are your main partners in this project and what are their roles?

A: The WEMA partnership is made up of eight organizations.
African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), National Agricultural Research Systems; Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Instituto de Investigação Agrária de Moçambique (IIAM), Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa, Tanzania Commission of Science and Technology (COSTECH), National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) of Uganda, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and Monsanto Company, with each partner bringing strategic expertise and strength. AATF coordinates the partnership which was initiated since 2008 and is in its second phase. The partnership is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffet Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development.

Q: Why did you decide to release the new three drought tolerant maize hybrids this time around and not in the past given the fact that the farmers have been suffering for that quite long time with drought and diseases related challenges?

A: For a variety to be released, it has to go through the required regulatory processes of TOSCI. In Tanzania, these include conducting advanced trials of the variety for at least two years, assessing of the distinctiveness, uniformity and stability of the variety for two seasons, and then they undergo the national performance trials conducted by TOSCI for one season.

Q: What achievements have you registered so far since you started this project?

A: A key achievement is that the first conventional drought-tolerant WEMA maize hybrid – WE1101 was approved in Kenya for commercial release to farmers in June 2013. The seed was released to farmers under the trademark DroughtTEGOTM in October 2013 through six local seed companies in Kenya. Farmers in parts of Western Kenya are already harvesting the crops. We expect the demand for DroughtTEGOTM to go up next season given that farmers are already asking for more seed.

Q: I also understand that research is one thing and implementation of the research findings or outputs is quite another; how are you prepared to involve other stakeholders particularly seed companies to make sure that they produce and take the seeds to the farmers?

A: The partnership also plans to provide the seed companies with seed to plant their own demonstration plots (demos) that they can use to showcase to farmers. This is in addition to inviting them for field days so that farmers’ questions can be answered and additional information on the hybrids is provided to the farmers.

Click here to view full article on IPP media site | Click here to view clip of the article in the Guardian, Tanzania

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