Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA)

Improved Maize Varieties to Aid Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa
Jul 12, 2013 2:45 PM ET
Multimedia with summary

The Need

Three-quarters of the world’s most severe droughts over the past 10 years have occurred in Africa, making farming risky for millions of smallholder farmers, most of whom are women and rely on rainfall to water their crops. Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa – more than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source. Maize production is severely affected by drought, which can lead to unpredictable and low yields, and at worst, complete crop failure.

Like drought, insects present another challenge to African farmers who often have few resources to manage them.  During drought, maize that is able to survive becomes  particularly susceptible to pests, especially stem borers. This can have an even further impact on farmers’ ability to grow and harvest enough maize to feed their families.  


About the Project: WEMA 

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa project (WEMA) is a public/private partnership, led by the Kenyan-based African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation, and USAID.

It was created with a goal to enhance food security in Sub-Saharan Africa through developing and deploying drought-tolerant maize royalty-free to the smallholder farmers. Insect-protection is complementary to the efforts of developing more drought-tolerant maize varieties and will also be available royalty-free. This increased yield stability has the potential to help reduce hunger and improve the livelihood of millions of Africans.

New varieties are being developed to increase yields under moderate drought and insect pressure, compared to varieties available to farmers when the project started in 2008.

The first WEMA varieties developed through advanced breeding techniques or marker-assisted breeding could be available to farmers within the next two or three years.  Pending research and development results and regulatory approvals in each of the WEMA countries, drought –tolerant and insect-protected varieties developed using both advanced breeding and transgenic approaches could be available to farmers in the later part of the decade.

The improvements could produce an estimated two million additional tons of food enough to feed 14 to 21 million people.  Harvest gains could also be sold to increase incomes and give farmers confidence to invest in improved farming practices.


Monsanto's Contribution 

Monsanto contributions include providing maize germplasm to enable the breeding efforts, offering technical expertise to develop and deploy locally adapted maize hybrids, and donating its commercial drought-tolerance and insect-protection traits royalty-free.

The project is in its sixth year and is approaching a significant milestone as the first WEMA conventional maize hybrid will be available for commercial planting in Kenya by the end of 2013.


About the Partners

The partners in the project are also contributing technology, time, and expertise. 

The project is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Howard G. Buffett Foundation and USAID.


Billy Brennan
Monsanto Company