Newly released drought-tolerant maize hybrids, developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project, have attracted interest from companies, which are looking to market them to farmers in East Africa.
Stockists and agro input dealers have also keen on the high-performing maize varieties, code-named WE for “water efficient”.
Wema national project coordinators (NPCs) from the implementing countries (Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda), reveal that the relevant agencies approved WEs for release, demonstration gardens were set up to showcase their performance.
“Small and large-scale agro input dealers and stockists have realised the yield benefits to farmers and good profits for themselves. They have rushed to get licences to market and sell the seed,” one of the Wema NPCs told a review meeting held in Nairobi, Kenya.
One revelation was by Dr Grace Abalo, Wema NPC for Uganda, who disclosed that research trials in Karamoja, had proved successful against drought.
He narrated: “Our trials at Naro Nabuin Research Institute in Nakapiripirit District, has been successful, that it impressed the European Union (EU) delegation. While on their tour of Karamoja to assess impact of drought on the livelihoods, they [EU] found our plants still green alongside drought-burnt ordinary maize, that was planted side-by-side. The EU Head announced donation of a vehicle to the researcher in-charge of the maize trial to enable him traverse the region to inform the leaders and communities about this new technology.”
Drought, pests, climate change
Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa, and more than 300 million people depend on it as a main food source.
But the crop is severely affected by frequent drought and irregular rainfall, which leads to crop failure. Climate change is likely to worsen the problem.
Like drought, insect pests present a challenge for smallholder maize farmers in Africa who have limited resources to effectively manage them. During drought, maize is particularly susceptible to insect pests and farmers can experience complete loss.
Accessible to farmers
Nancy Muchiri, Communication and Partnerships Manager, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), which manages Wema, points out that the maize varieties are both drought-tolerant and insect-protected.
So far, by May 2014, 25 hybrids had been released for commercial production and sales in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Another batch of hybrids have been entered into the final phase of variety registration for potential release in 2015. The new varieties developed will be assessed by the national authorities according to their regulatory requirements.
All maize varieties will be made available to smallholder farmers through local seed companies. But the companies will not pay royalties, thus making them more affordable for farmers’ access.
New hybrids to come
The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project uses three breeding approaches: conventional, marker-assisted and genetic modification breeding. It focuses on developing, field-testing and deploying new varieties in the five countries.
The following are hybrids that in the pipeline for release in these countries:
• Kenya: WEMA 1101, WE2101, WE2104, WE2106, WE2107, WE2108, WE2109, WE2110, WE2114, WE2115, WE3104, WE3106, WE3201, WE3202 and WE1245
• Tanzania: WE2109, WE2112, WE2113
• Uganda: WE2101, WE2103, WE2104, WE2106, WE2114, WE2115