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article imageUganda: Drought-Resistant Maize Research Funded

By Bob Ewing     Apr 5, 2008 in Environment
Uganda is among the four countries that will participate in a $47m (sh80b) project that will develop drought-resistant maize for Africa. The other countries are Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa
Drought is already a major threat around the world and global climate change is likely to increase the negative affect that this threat poses to farmers and the people who rely on the farmers for their food supply.
Agriculture relies heavily on water and water scarcity can cause much hardship and is a potential source of regional conflicts. If global climate change increases the water shortages then the problems associated with those shortages will increase.
One way that farmers and countries can work to offset the impact of global climate change on crops is to develop drought tolerant crops.
There are efforts being made to do just that develop drought resistant crops; if these are successful then an important step towards offsetting the effects of global climate change will have been taken.
An AllAfrica report says that Uganda is among the four countries that will participate in a $47m (sh80b) project that will develop drought-resistant maize for Africa. The other countries are Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.
The project in question is the five-year Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project which is focused on developing maize varieties that can withstand the semi-arid conditions that characterize the greatest part of Africa.
The project will begin this year and is a public-private partnership that is headed by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). The national agricultural research institutes in their respective countries will spearhead the research.
AATF is a not-for-profit organisation designed to facilitate and promote public/private partnerships for the access and delivery of appropriate proprietary agricultural technologies for use by resource-poor smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"WEMA was formed in response to a growing call by African farmers, leaders and scientists to address the devastating effects of drought on small-scale farmers. Frequent droughts lead to crop failure, hunger and poverty," said Dr. Mpoko Bokanga, the AATF executive director.
Local institutions will expand their capacity and experience in crop breeding, biotechnology and bio-safety.
Dr. Denis Kyetere, the director-general of the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO), said: "The project will promote food security in Africa. Drought causes up to 100% crop failure in Uganda."
Kyetere said the benefits and safety of the maize varieties will be assessed by national authorities according to the regulatory requirements in each country.
NARO is the apex body for guidance and coordination of all agricultural research activities in the national agricultural research system in Uganda.
The first conventional varieties developed by WEMA will be available after six to seven years, while the transgenic drought-resistant maize hybrids will be available in about 10 years. The Bill and Melinda Gates and the Howard Buffet foundations are funding the project.
The partners estimate that the new variety will increase yields by 20 to 35% under moderate drought, compared to current varieties. The increase would translate into about two million metric tonnes of food during drought years in the participating countries.
Crop failure from drought is one of the primary reasons why small-scale farmers in Africa do not adopt improved farming practices. A more reliable harvest could give farmers the confidence to improve their techniques.
Maize, which is severely affected by frequent drought, is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa. More than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source.
Overall food security and livelihoods are deteriorating in Africa. In the past 15 years, the number of Africans living below the poverty line ($1/day) has increased by 50%. Global climate change will make an already bad situation worse, however, the work being done to develop drought tolerant crop varieties can ameliorate the effect that climate change can have.
More about Drought, Uganda, Corn
 
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