The receipt of the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) Corporate Award in December 2013, a record number of released maize varieties in Africa, commercialisation and harvesting of the first drought-tolerant conventional maize hybrid by smallholder farmers in Kenya were some of key achievements that were highlighted and celebrated at the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project’s 6th annual review and planning meeting that was held in Entebbe, Uganda in February 2014. During the meeting, which marked the end of the first year of the second phase of the project, partners took stock of achievements and challenges of the project and planned for year 2014.
“For the first time in the history of maize research in Africa, a single entity (WEMA) released 16 hybrids in one year,” remarked Dr Sylvester Oikeh, the WEMA Project Manager as he gave a snapshot of 2013 achievements. The project targets to release 25 hybrids during Phase II (2013-2017). Relatedly more than 70 new hybrids have been nominated for national performance trials or advanced trials in the five project countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa in 2014. The varieties that are expected to provide 20-35 percent more grain yield than other commercial hybrids under moderate drought, are being sold to farmers under the brand name DroughtTEGO™ by licensed seed companies in Kenya.
In January 2014, farmers in western Kenya harvested the first DroughtTEGO™ hybrid WE1101. According to Dr Gospel Omanya, the manager in charge of Projects Management and Deployment at AATF, the hybrid recorded an average yield of 4.5 tonnes per hectare during the short rains season harvest.
At the meeting, Dr Lawrence Kent, Senior Programme Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation expressed his excitement about the products coming out of the Project’s development pipeline. He urged all partners to work hard to get the maize varieties into the hands of more farmers. “I am excited about the products coming out, but we need to get more farmers to use the product, turn 7,000 into 700,000 into 7 million farmers. We therefore, need to get more seed companies on board”, he said.
The project was however not without challenges, some of which included the threat of the Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease in East Africa and unfavourable biosafety regulations in some of the countries that WEMA operates in that have prevented the field trials of the maize varieties. To address the MLN challenge, CIMMYT’s Global Maize Programme Director Dr Prasanna Boddupalli mentioned that the Centre has come up with strict guidelines on MLN free germplasm, taking tremendous precautions to ensure that it doesn’t spread to other countries.
Dr John McMurdy, USAID’s International Research and Biotechnology Advisor called on the project to intensify its efforts towards improving biosafety regulations in the project countries. “In as much as there are several partners championing the WEMA cause, it is instrumental to address the question of political will towards an enabling biosafety environment in the countries that will allow for the testing and commercialisation of biotechnology products for the benefit of farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.’
Dr Denis T. Kyetere, Executive Director of AATF, said that the just concluded year had set a precedent for success and with the ND-GAIN Award, the WEMA project has renewed vigour to achieve its goal of enhancing food security in Sub-Saharan Africa and getting drought-tolerant and insect-pest protected maize varieties in the hands of smallholder farmers.