WEMA’s goal is to deliver climate smart technologies to farmers in Africa.
The Water Efficient for Africa (WEMA) breeding programme has built its reputation over the last decade as a credible maize improvement project in Sub-Saharan Africa. Apart from developing a robust product pipeline of 75 maize hybrids, it has also offered seed companies and farmers a wide selection of products.
Furthermore, the project prides in working together with seed companies to help solve day to day challenges by farmers. Drought and food security are the core concerns of the project. It is with the vision of like-minded private companies like Ultravetis that WEMA is meeting its project goal of improving yields on drought-prone farmlands.
The long-term goal is to deploy these new varieties and make them available to smallholder farmers royalty-free through local African seed companies.
Inaugural discussion between Dr. Gospel Omanya, Senior Manager at AATF and Ultravetis Director, Mr. Wachira Muriithi, yielded a fruitful partnership that brought Ultravetis into maize seed business. Ultravetis was first licensed to sell its first WEMA hybrid (WE1101) in October 2013 rainy season. Within the last 4 years, Ultravetis have four more licensed WEMA maize hybrids, namely, WE2109, WE2107, WE2111 and WE3106. Ultravetis is a good example of companies that have been bold to tap in to opportunities and fly with it. Through WEMA the company has been able to increase its product range and network coverage.
Your latest kid on the block on matters seeds is Elgon Prestige 02 (WE1101). What are some of its defining features?
This seed is a product of the partnership between the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), Kenya Agricultural Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO) and WEMA–Water Efficient Maize for Africa, a project. Its biggest selling point is that it is a drought and other stress-tolerant variety. It does well in conditions of reduced rainfall. It is high-yielding because it is a double cropper.
That means every stem has two cobs. We have seen farmers harvest up to between 35 and 40 bags an acre. This is way higher than 10-15 bags which other seeds give from an acre. Having been developed to brave climate change, this variety takes 90 days for green maize to be ready for the market. Those targeting dry maize will have harvest it in four months.
Jotham’s maize yield has increased from 10 kilograms to 10 bags of 90kg maize from when he started farming DroughtTEGO™ maize hybrid developed by Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project in 2014.
For seven years, he harvested only 10 kilograms of maize from a quarter of an acre piece of land (equivalent to 0.1 t/ha). “At the time I knew nothing about technology. That is why I never got much from my farm. But now my yield has increased because of DroughtTEGO™ maize seed and good agronomy practices,” he said.
WEMA through its project partner, Rural Outreach Programme (ROP), a community based farmer organization in Western Kenya has been conducting field demonstrations (demo) for farmers in the region. It’s through the awareness drives that Jotham was approached to host a field demo at his farm.
“They set up a 10 metre by 10 metre demo plot with several maize varieties on each. TEGO variety- WE1101 out-did the rest,” said Jotham. He harvested 70 kg from the demo plot.
Jotham Apamo puts across a point during an interview in Western Kenya. His yield has increased from 10kg per quarter acre (equivalent to 0.1 t/ha) to 10 bags of 90kg (4.5t/ha) on half acre farm after adopting DroughtTEGO, a maize brand from the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. PHOTO/AATF
Approval for trials of genetically modified (GM) maize has been granted by the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology, Daily Monitor has learnt.
The confined field trial is to test whether the GM maize can withstand adverse climate conditions as well as diseases.
When contacted on Monday, Dr Godfrey Asea, the project implementer, confirmed the developments. He explained that the trial, which is due to start soon, will focus on the tolerance of GM maize varieties against insects and drought.
Emanuel Ber, 5, plays with yellow maize at their home in Rachuonyo, Homa Bay County, on January 19, 2016. National Biosafety Authority has approved cultivation trials for GMO maize. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
A public-private consortium behind the scientific development of drought and pest resistant high yielding maize varieties says last week’s approval for national field trials is the way to go.
Acting Kenya Agricultural Livestock and research Organisation (Kalro) Director General Eliud Kiplimo, and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) Executive Director Denis Kyetere said they would immediately embark on the next step of identifying suitable varieties for various regions that are adversely affected by stem borers.
Acute food shortage has threatened the forty eight countries which make up sub-Saharan Africa. The reasons have been many, starting from climate change, government policy and farming practices like generations of subsistence farming which has depleted the nutrients in soil and made it less fertile. The region is becoming more arid, adding difficulty to the growing season.
The sixth of 10 children, Florence Wambugu knew at an early age there must be a better way to ward off pests than mixing ashes and soot. Her mother sold the one cow from their family farm to send her daughter to school and test the theory.
Wambugu would go on to receive a scholarship from the United States Department of Agriculture to spend time at Monsanto, the biotechnology powerhouse in St. Louis, Missouri, where she studied genetic engineering for the sweet potato.
Since returning to Kenya, where she is CEO of Africa Harvest Biotech International, she has extended technologies such as tissue culture for bananas to rural smallholder farmers.
The 48 countries that make up sub-Saharan Africa have increasingly acute food needs as climate change turns the region’s growing seasons more arid. The drought now devastating southern and East Africa, which threatens 50 million people with famine, is just the start, climate forecasters say. The World Bank projects that, given present trends, about 40 percent of the land used to grow corn in sub-Saharan Africa will no longer be suitable for current varieties by 2030.
Monsanto says it has part of the solution. On small plots of land in Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda, the company—in collaboration with, among others, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—is testing corn varieties that hold up better against dry weather and insects. Monsanto’s Water Efficient Maize for Africa project is as much about doing well as it is about doing good. “The long-term growth has to be looked at as a business opportunity,” says project director Mark Edge, whose work involves hybrid seeds rather than the genetically modified varieties Monsanto produces, which are controversial on the continent. “The short-term challenge is creating the market and understanding what investments can do that,” he says.