A team of Kenyan researchers is upbeat about the prospects of developing a drought-tolerant maize variety with the latest field trials yielding positive results.
The researchers working at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute’s Kiboko centre in Makueni County have reported a significant improvement in yields in a crop of transgenic maize which had been exposed to drought conditions.
This is the second phase of field trials under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) project which started in March 2008 in five African countries.
The project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is also being undertaken in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa.
The scientists hope to develop a maize seed by 2017 from a germplasm provided by the agribusiness company Monsanto that can grow and produce relatively high yields under the harsh conditions of Africa’s dry lands.
“The purpose of this project is to increase drought tolerance in hybrid seeds to significantly boost yield stability,” said Dr James Gethi, co-ordinator of the Wema project in Kenya.
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation has secured a deal with Monsanto to ensure than smallholder farmers will access the seed at relatively affordable prices.
More significantly, it will offer some respite to the country’s food security challenges that have worsened due to climate change.
Maize is Kenya’s staple food that is consumed by 96 per cent of the population while providing 40 per cent of calorie requirements.
An estimated 70 to 80 per cent of the maize is produced by smallholder farmers but climatic vagaries including drought have contributed to declining crop yield.
Kenya is currently a net maize importer as production of the staple at farm level fail to match increased demand from a growing population.
An innovative project that utilises conventional breeding and biotechnology to develop drought tolerant maize varieties could reverse declining crop yield, boost food security and revenue streams for smallholders.
Additional report by Xinhua