WEMA: Seeding drought relief in Africa

Africa is a drought-prone continent, making farming risky for millions of smallholder farmers who 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 – and it is severely affected by frequent drought. 

Drought tolerance has been recognized as one of the most important targets of crop improvement programs, and biotechnology has been identified as a powerful tool to achieve significant drought tolerance by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Identifying ways to mitigate drought risk and insect pressure, stabilize yields, and encourage smallholder farmers to adopt best management practices is fundamental to realizing food security and improved livelihoods for the continent.

AATF is coordinating a public-private partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) to develop drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize using conventional breeding, marker-assisted breeding, and biotechnology, with a goal to make these varieties available royalty-free to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa through African seed companies.

The Cornell Alliance for Science, in partnership with AATF, is documenting the long journey to get this important technology into the hands of the farmers who need it most. We hope that these resources can educate and help the public understand the importance of scientific innovation in creating a “Climate for Change”.

WEMA Profiles

Tanzania plants its first GMO research crop

Tanzania planted its first GMO crop as part of a field trial that will demonstrate the effectiveness and safety of a drought-tolerant GM maize hybrid developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project to benefit five nations in sub-Saharan Africa. Read More

Drought-tolerant maize shows promise in Tanzania

Early results from Tanzania’s first GMO field trial indicate that drought-tolerant maize (corn) developed under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project appears to be performing as intended. Researchers expect the drought-tolerant plants will deliver a higher yield than those without the added trait. Read More

Visiting Tanzania’s first-ever GMO crop trial

Tanzania’s first-ever GMO field trial could hold hope for drought-stricken small-holder farmers in Tanzania. But first it must go through a strict testing and regulatory process. Mark Lynas and Hannah Smith Walker visited the confined field trial to capture this behind-the-scenes account of public interest science as it unfold s in sub-Saharan Africa. Read More

GMO maize for Tanzania’s drought-stricken farmers

In this video, Tanzania farmers discuss how drought is affecting their lives and share their hopes for WEMA’s drought-tolerant maize, which is being tested in their nation’s first-ever GMO field trial. Read More


Regina Mwashilemo: A Tanzania farmer

In this photo essay, Hannah Walker Smith vividly illustrates the challenges facing livestock and crop farmer Regina Mwashilemo as she endures a devastating drought in Tanzania. Drought-tolerant seeds developed by the WEMA project may help. Read More

Tanzania’s first GMO trial ends in ashes

In keeping with Tanzania's strict biosafety laws, researchers must burn the harvest from that nation's first GMO crop confined field trial, even as drought-stricken citizens suffer from hunger. Read More

Major UN report endorses “climate-smart” biotech crops

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlights the importance of improved crops and biotechnology, such as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, in reducing poverty and addressing climate change challenges faced by the world's 750 million smallholder farmers. Read More

WEMA: Helping Africa develop better maize

The Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project is a public-private partnership, coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), working to develop drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize varieties that can help smallholder farmers – most of whom are women – feed their families and increase their incomes. Read More


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