By Dr Denis Kyetere,
October 01, 2017
AATF progressed in all its project goals during the 2016 financial year recording key firsts in some areas as we continue to focus on providing technology-based solutions to a broader farmer community based on their needs.
A key highlight for us during 2016 was injection of an additional 38 maize hybrids into the commercial seed market in east and southern Africa. Of these, 33 were realised under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project (WEMA) that released 28 conventional (DroughtTEGO®) and 5 transgenic varieties as part of our climate change mitigation work, while 5 hybrids trademarked StrigAway were released through the Striga Control in Maize Project that is contributing towards pest management interventions. Some of the conventional WEMA hybrids are recording, under moderate drought, yield benefits of up to 56% (3.9 tonnes per hectare) compared with the commercial varieties used as checks (2.5 tonnes per hectare). StrigAway hybrids have achieved yield benefits of between 0.5 to 1.5 tonnes per hectare, which at times is about 100% depending on severity of Striga infestation.
We also expanded the range of products that is getting to farmers through our activities. The first transgenic product out of the WEMA Project, the insect-pest protected (Bt) maize, trademarked TELA™, was planted by farmers in South Africa. This is a first for AATF and we are excited and thankful to all our partners. The five TELA hybrids are being licensed to seed companies for production.
The year also saw us broaden our engagement with farmers and farmer groups to enhance better understanding of the technologies and encourage uptake of products in the various countries. For the first time, the farmers we work for were able to evaluate the performance of transgenic crops through the Pod Borer (PBR) Cowpea Project. The farmers planted, managed and harvested the PBR cowpea and presented the results to other farmers during field days eliciting excitement and interest. The PBR Cowpea Project looks forward to moving towards environmental release.
More farmers managed to get access to financing opportunities through our mechanisation initiative, the Cassava Mechanisation and Agro-processing Project (CAMAP). This was achieved through partnership with financial institutions and the private sector. These opportunities allowed farmers access to affordable mechanisation services for their cassava production under an arrangement where farmers pay 50% of the total cost at the start and the balance within the cropping period. This builds on the project’s business model of cost recovery that is developing a revolving fund that seeks to increase the number of farmers utilising mechanisation on their farms. By close of year, the project had received commitment from financiers to support mechanisation of 3,900 hectares in Nigeria. The number of participating farmers grew within the year to 5,000, up from 4,500 in 2015 as a result of the favourable returns on investment due to higher yields and better quality. The land under cassava cultivation also expanded to 6,000 hectares, up from 4,500 in 2015. It is our hope that additional investors will come on board in 2017 to enhance the farmers’ opportunities for mechanisation.
We continued to work with a number of seed companies to address bottlenecks that hinder smallholder farmers’ access to appropriate quantities of high quality seed in a timely manner and at affordable prices. We engaged in about 30 collaborative activities through the WEMA, Striga Control in Maize, Seeds2B, Hybrid Rice and PBR Cowpea projects to achieve this objective which we believe will provide a wider reach and better choice of products for smallholder farmers.
We recorded good progress under product development. WEMA-Mozambique released its first conventional DroughtTEGO® hybrids under WEMA and also received approvals to carry out the first confined field trials in the country to test the stacked drought tolerant (DT) and Bt insect-pest protected varieties. Tanzania also granted the first-ever CFT approval in July/August 2016 to the WEMA Project. Additionally, WEMA Kenya and WEMA Uganda tested the stacked drought-tolerant and insect-pest protected varieties for the first time in confined field trials.
In our soil management interventions, the Nitrogen-Use Efficient, Water-Use Efficient and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice Project closed the year with identification of two Nitrogen-Use Efficient (NUE) lead events for further evaluation. Early food safety evaluation for the NUE protein was carried out.
The Hybrid Rice Project entered 15 varieties into the National Performance Trials in Kenya in readiness for release to farmers.
Regarding product deregulation, a key development during 2016 was approval by the Government of Kenya in February to allow environmental release of WEMA’s insect-pest protected (Bt) maize. This was the first time such an approval was granted not only in Kenya but the whole of east Africa – and indeed most of Sub-Saharan Africa – and we are delighted to have been part of this achievement. It is unfortunate that this approval has not yet translated into a product for farmers due to unprecedented regulatory and policy constraints that we are currently engaged in addressing.
We continue to face challenges on the overall regulatory and policy front. However, we recorded a number of victories indicating progress towards success. In Nigeria, the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA) made its first approval for environmental release of Bt cotton and Bt/HT maize for Confined Field Trials. In Kenya, biotech stakeholders were pleased with Parliament’s decision to remove the contentious clauses from the proposed Natural Resources (Classes of Transactions Subject to Ratification) Bill, 2015, that sought to introduce parliamentary ratification of all CFT permits for genetically modified (GM) crops and material transfer agreements (MTAs) involving any natural resource in Kenya (plants, animals and microorganisms). Through our Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa (OFAB) Project, we continue to work with partners in Uganda towards the passage of the Biosafety Bill into law, and we are hopeful of success.
Our finances were stable during the year which allowed us to meet our obligations fully. We were encouraged with mobilisation of an additional US$ 13.5 million to support our work in advocacy and seed systems. We are grateful to all our investors for the continued support and belief in our work. With the support of our Board of Trustees, we are focusing our resource mobilisation on driving annual work streams and on more long term sustainability.
We grew our human capital by 10%, building the core competencies on commercialisation, project coordination, communications, advocacy, information systems, legal and resource mobilisation. This growth is in line with the need to build on our core strengths to support our work across Sub-Saharan Africa and it brings the total AATF staff complement to 56.
The year 2016 was therefore quite productive even with the few policy challenges that delayed attainment of some goals. We are grateful to our dedicated team at AATF and the Board of Trustees that have continued to provide advice, our partners, investors, the researchers and other professionals who work with us to improve smallholder farmers’ lives. We look forward to an even more exciting 2017.