Stories tagged: WEMA

Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA)

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





With a billion people hungry, how can we feed the world?

The world’s population has now surpassed the seven billion mark and is predicted to reach nine billion by 2050. With a billion people already hungry, this raises the question– how can we feed them and the billions still to come?

This was the question being addressed last week at Economist Conferences “Feeding the World” summit in Geneva on 8th February. The day saw some of the most respected names from agribusiness, Government, international agencies and the scientific community come together to generate fresh solutions to critical food security challenges.


Some of the key discussions at the summit centered around the role of public-private partnerships as a key mechanism for advancing agriculture to meet global challenges in food security. Developing new crops and increasing crop yields through innovative research and technology will also play a crucial role in increasing agricultural productivity.

Not only is the rising global population putting a strain on our world’s resources, climate change is threatening farmers’ ability to produce enough food to meet this growing demand. The food price hikes of 2008, hundreds of millions of people were pushed into poverty, sparking riots across much of the world. Governments became alerted to what might lie ahead and rich nations, including China, South Korea and Japan began buying and leasing huge quantities of foreign land for the production of food whilst some countries either banned or limited food exports to safeguard their own supplies. Then at the start of 2011, world food prices reached a new historic peak, leaving millions more people hungry.

The problem is not going to go away and these issues need to be addressed now. As José Graziano da Silva, the newly appointed Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said in his opening speech, “To build a food secure 2050 we need to start now”. He then went on to say, “With regard to the question we are asking today, it is HOW and not IF we can feed the world in 2050”.

The morning moved on to speech given by Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestlé, who emphasised how the private sector can have an important role to play in addressing the global food crisis. He discussed how his company is working with approximately 600,000 farmers in innovative partnerships worldwide to provide technical assistance and financial support. This theme was repeated later in the day in a panel debate, which included Jim Borel of DuPont, Juan Ferreira of Monsanto and Ellen Gustafson of The 30 Project. Ferreira spoke about a public-private partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), which is using advanced plant breeding and biotechnology to develop more drought tolerant maize varieties. Borel also highlighted the importance of technology, but said, “We must strike the right balance between new technology and better practices using existing technologies”.

Speaking at the conference, Kavita Prakash-Mani of Syngenta said that companies from many different sectors can all play their part in helping to ensure food security by “providing more training, better inputs, access to finance, access to better storage and transport and better prices for crops”.

Pascal Lamy, Director-General of the World Trade Oragnisation (WTO) later gave a speech on open trade and food security. Speaking about international trade and the important role it plays in global food security, Lamy said, “By fostering greater competition, trade allows food to be produced where this can be most efficiently done”. Referring to the export restrictions during the 2008 food price crisis, Lamy described these as “starve-thy-neighbour” policies, which he argued brought “importing countries to their knees to plead for food security”. His final remarks urged us to get our policy mix right on food production and on trade to help address food security challenges.

In the afternoon, there was another panel debate, this time on the role of science and technology in increasing agricultural productivity. The panel consisted of Nina Fedorofff of Pennsylvania State University, Thomas Lumpkin of CIMMYT and Howard Shapiro of Mars Inc who discussed how technology can help increase crop yields by 1.5% over the next 40 years to feed mankind adequately. “Science does hold the solution” said Fedoroff, “but the question is whether we use it”.

China– the world’s most populous nation and the second largest economy – has become heavily dependent on food imports from countries such as the US, Brazil and Argentina to help meet the consumption demands of its newly-rich citizens. Despite this, China has enough arable land and water to feed its projected population of 1.34 billion in 2050, even with current available technologies. Jikun Huang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences talked us through how China’s agriculture trading patterns are evolving as its agricultural sector modernizes and becomes more productive, urging that “China will be 99% self-sufficient for food by 2020”.

During the “Feeding the World” summit, Farming First filmed a number of interviews with speakers, including Jim Borel of DuPont, Nina Fedoroff of Pennsylvania State University and KavitaPrakash Mani of Syngenta. Video highlights can be seen on The Economist Conference website and longer versions of the interviews will soon be available on Farming First TV.

Public-Private Partnerships: A Vital Mechanism for Advancing Agricultural Innovation

As populations continue to grow, the world’s farmers have the formidable task of providing nutritious food for 9 billion people by 2050. Several fierce challenges still stand in their way as our world resources are under more strain than ever, whilst at the same time more frequent and extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are affecting farmers ability to produce enough food to meet demand. These issues are incredibly complex to solve, yet are becoming increasingly urgent. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are one way in which expertise from different fields can be combined to reach innovative agricultural solutions.

What are Public-Private Partnerships?

Public-Private Partnerships are formed by public organisations and private sector businesses in order to share knowledge, skills and expertise allowing them to meet a common goal. They operate on the principle that by combining their strengths, all partners can make better progress than they would alone.

Public partners include research institutes, universities and NGOs, who have the ground-level knowledge and understanding of the issues in question. Private partners includemultinational corporations or producer associations, who can not only inject capital into projects, but also provide specialist skills and provide successful marketing and distribution channels. According to Syngenta, public investment in productivity-enhancing agricultural research and development has been declining in most of the world outside China. Private investments and capability, on the other hand, continue to grow.

In the instances of agriculture and food security, PPPs can be especially effective. The following quote is taken from Crop Life International’s brochure : “Advancing Agricultural Innovation through Public-Private Partnerships”

Collaborative partnerships can effectively bridge the gap between public and private sectors’ distinctive competencies in order to meet farmers’ needs.

For national governments, partnerships offer a way to translate shared research outputs into useful, relevant tools for their own farmers. They can offer access to a greater variety of technology choices; they can spread and share the financial burden of research; and they can create a flexible, expert resource for capacity-building.

For the private sector, public-private partnerships have potential to increase the leverage of a deep knowledge-base. They offer a mechanism to share the costs of infrastructure and diffusion, and also an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of technologies over time. Finally, they can make individual innovations better adapted to local conditions, and in so doing enhance the quality and quantity of sectoral knowledge.

Public-Private Partnerships in practice


Such partnerships are already in progress in the developing world. In Africa, a new public-private partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) was formed in 2008 to help smallholder farmers and their families by using advanced plant breeding and biotechnology to develop more drought tolerant maize varieties.

The partnership comprises of the not-for-profit organization the African Agricultural Technology Foundation who co ordinate, as well as private agricultural companies such as Monsanto and BASF who provide access to access proprietary germplasm, advanced breeding tools and expertise, and drought-tolerant transgenes for use in WEMA research.

It is estimated that the maize varieties developed over the next decade could increase yields as much as 20 to 35 percent under moderate drought conditions compared to the hybrids available in 2008. This would equate to an extra two million additional tonnes of food during times of drought for participating countries.

Another example of a successful public-private partnership has been studied by IFPRI in their 2008 report “Building Public Private Partnerships for Agricultural Innovation”. The project based in Bolivia aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of peanut cultivation in the Mairana Valley and sought to improve income for peanut producers by 25%.

Several partners were involved in the process: The Association of Oilseed and Wheat Producers (ANAPO) assumed responsibility for technical assistance and technology transfer, while the Bolivian Agricultural Technology (SIBTA) and the Mairana municipality government provided the financing. A fixed price for the product was set before the harvest and ensured by a buyer, Shirosawa S.R.L, which markets peanuts to international markets in Japan and elsewhere. Both ANAPO and the SIBTA had previous experience with development projects in the peanut sector, and as a result, had access to a broad spectrum of information about principal actors, production procedures and the commercialization of peanuts. In fact, it was this knowledge of the opportunities and limitations in the peanut sector that motivated them to form the partnership.

The benefits that the producers have received from the partnership include a reduction of production costs by 30 percent, a 40-percent increase in yields, the strengthening of the farmer organization, and the transfer and introduction of new technology. In addition to achieving the project’s goals, other unexpected achievements were realized: new production and commercialization skills were acquired and partners initiated collaboration with other actors in the sector.

It is clear that there is no ‘silver bullet’ that will solve the myriad challenges facing smallholder farmers today. It is also apparent that by combining the expertise of different bodies, that is to say, allowing partnerships between public and private sector organisations, we have the potential to reach sustainable and innovative agriculture solutions.