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Kenya testing drought tolerant maize

Drought tolerant top-cross hybrids are being produced as part of the WEMA project (© Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT)
Drought tolerant top-cross hybrids are being produced as part of the WEMA project
© Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT

Crop specialists in Kenya have recently undertaken a third confined field trial to evaluate the performance of genetically modified maize plants that have been designed to tolerate moderate drought. Conducted under a public-private partnership, Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), the trials are using conventional breeding, marker-assisted breeding and biotechnology to mitigate the risk to drought, stabilise yields and encourage smallscale farmers to adopt best management practices.

With drought frequency and severity increasing across the region, scientists warn that maize yields could drop dramatically. Yet preliminary evidence reveals that WEMA varieties could provide yields 24-35 per cent higher under moderate drought, compared to varieties available to farmers today. "For millions of small-scale farmers, risk of crop failure from drought is a major barrier to the adoption of improved farming practices," explains Dr. James Gethi, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute's national maize programme coordinator. "A more reliable harvest could give farmers the confidence to invest in improved techniques that could further boost their yields and incomes."

"By 2016 the new drought tolerant maize varieties will start rolling out to seed companies," says Dr Stephen Mugo, a senior maize breeder at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). In order to make the improved seed affordable, the new varieties will be licensed to the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), and distributed through local seed suppliers on a royalty-free basis.

* In Kenya, WEMA varieties are being developed under a partnership involving AATF, CIMMYT, Monsanto and KARI with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffet Foundation

Written by: George Kebaso

Date published: February 2012

 

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