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Uganda: Field trial with drought-tolerant maize

(05 August 2010) In November, field trials with genetically modified (GM) drought-tolerant maize are expected to begin in Uganda. The maize is part of an international project aimed towards the development of high-yielding maize varieties that are adapted to African conditions.

The National Biosafety Committee (NBC) of Uganda has authorised a field trial with drought-tolerant maize under certain conditions. The trial is expected to begin in November, as stated by a participating scientist at an international conference in the capital Kampala.

Distinct maize lines have been developed for drought resistance; the tests are intended to observe their performance under field conditions. Possibly-negative impacts on the environment also should be assessed.

The maize trials are part of the WEMA (Water Efficient Maize for Africa) project, collaborators in which include the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and national research institutes in Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa as well as the agro-biotechnology firm Monsanto. WEMA is coordinated by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation support the project with 47 million US dollars.

Goal is the development by 2018 of drought-tolerant maize lines adapted to growing conditions in Africa. To this end, conventional and modern molecular-biological breeding techniques (‘smart breeding’) as well as the processes of genetic engineering should be employed. The project's target is to increase yield by 25 per cent in comparison to current harvest levels under drought conditions.

Seeds of new maize varieties that are derived from the project will be made available without a price premium to African farmers. Furthermore, the saving of seeds from one harvest for re-planting in the following year will not be restricted. AATF and CIMMYT have arranged contractually with Monsanto that the seeds be multiplied and marketed by local breeders. Farmers will not be obliged to pay royalties.

Maize is grown extensively in Africa where it is a staple food for more than 300 million people.


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