The Uganda-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation has announced a public-private partnership that will work to develop drought-tolerant maize varieties for Africa.
Funded by grants totaling $47 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates and Howard G. Buffett foundations, the partnership, Water Efficient Maize (WEMA), was formed in response to a growing call by African farmers, leaders, and scientists to address the effects of drought on small-scale farmers and their families. Frequent droughts on the continent lead to crop failure, hunger, and poverty and could be worsened by climate change. "This partnership fits well with the AATF mandate [to facilitate] innovative public/private partnerships that bring to smallholder farmers in Africa the tools needed to increase productivity for better food and income security," said AATF executive director Mpoko Bokanga.
AATF announced the effort at the end of a two-day planning meeting that included representatives from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and South Africa. At the meeting, the partners agreed to use marker-assisted breeding and biotechnology to develop African maize varieties, with the long-term goal of making drought-tolerant maize available royalty-free to African small-scale farmers. The benefits and safety of the maize will be assessed by national authorities according to the regulatory requirements in each country. To that end, AATF will work with the nonprofit International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Monsanto, and the national agricultural research systems in the participating countries.
The new drought-tolerance technologies have already been licensed without charge to AATF so they can be developed, tested, and eventually distributed royalty-free to African seed companies through AATF and made available to smallholder farmers.
Funded by the Gates Foundation, an independent program at the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health at the University of Toronto will assess and monitor social, cultural, ethical, and commercial issues related to the WEMA Project. The independent organization will conduct annual audits of WEMA and serve as an additional communication channel for stakeholders.
"Drought is a source of suffering and food insecurity for many people in Uganda and it is recognized as a challenge by the government," said Dennis Kyetere, director general of the National Agricultural Research Organisation of Uganda. "Drought causes up to 100 percent crop failure in Uganda in some instances."