Africa is a drought-prone continent, which makes the lives of smallholders farmers who rely on rainfall to water their crops extremely difficult.
Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa, with more than 300 million Africans dependant on it for their main source of food, therefore, when drought impacts maize crops food security in the continent is put at risk.
Drought can also make maize particulalry susceptible to pests, meaning that any crops that do survive can still attract insects and in some cases farmers can experience complete crop loss.
It is for this reason that drought tolerance has been recognised as one of the most important targets of crop improvement programs. In response to this demand the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) partnership was formed by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).
The WEMA partnership works with national agricultural research systems in Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania where farmers’ groups and seed companies help to develop seed varieties that can withstand droughts but can also be scaled out to farmers across Africa.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is providing high-yielding maize varieties that adapted to African conditions and Monsanto is contributing drought-tolerant and insect protection genes so that the partnership can produce a hybrid maize crop that can withstand drought across Africa.
Thanks to WEMA the first hybrid with improved drought tolerance could be available as early as 2014