One of the most amazing applications of agricultural technology is drought tolerant crops. As climate change persists water efficient seeds can help farmers produce food while using less water. Africa is a drought prone region making farming risky for millions of farmers who mainly rely on rainfall for water. Market research reports for seed reveal that maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa with more than 300 million people depending on it for food and it gets severely affected by drought. Thanks to plant breeding technology Africa’s main food source can now be produced with drought tolerant traits protecting the crop during unpredictable environment stress.
Recent research has led to the development of new agriculture and seed technology as suggested by seed industry research reports. The WEMA project is a unique public private partnership led by Kenya based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAID. WEMA uses breeding techniques and biotechnology to develop drought tolerant seeds. Mozambique harvested its first genetically modified maize in August 2017 which led to further experimentation. The work is being done by the Institute of Agrarian Research (IIAM) which is one of the founders of the WEMA project and includes participation of sub-Saharan countries such as Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda through their respective agrarian research institutes. Genetically modified seeds from the US are also being tested under research projects of WEMA to develop drought tolerance in seed industry.
India is also developing techniques to combat drought situations that are frequent in states such as Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Experts say that future production will mainly be from the use of seeds that can perform under stressed conditions like drought. Sahbhagi Dhan is a drought tolerant variety of rice. As compared to conventional rice it produces nearly double the yield (in drought conditions), requires half as much water and matures much faster. DuPont Pioneer has developed around 5 hybrid seeds keeping in mind the depleting water table and uncertainty of monsoon in India. The innovative science driven solutions have enabled certain hybrids like Pioneer Millet Hybrid 86M66 and 86M88 to tolerate severe drought conditions, low or negligible rainfall and poor irrigation conditions. As a result of this there was a 45% increase in productivity of Pearl Millet and its production has increased by nearly 20%.
WEMA project has successfully completed several years of research and the result has been promising. Authorities have also shown their support. Tanzanian scientists have recently released their promising research on biotechnology. During meetings and discussions held for the WEMA project these researchers were supported by their government to carry on with the field trials of transgenic drought tolerant seeds. Recently the Tanzanian government amended the Environmental Management Regulations by removing strict liability to provide a better environment for conducting research. Uganda has also made significant contributions. The WEMA project has developed drought resistant maize hybrids which are sold under the brand name DroughtTego.
WEMA has led to further developments. The project coordinators have announced the next set of actions which will focus on ensuring that Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania among others initiative on commercialization of the improved maize by 2023. India is also contributing significantly in this respect.
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Ankur Gupta, Head Marketing & Communications