Maize (corn) is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa, where more than 300 million people depend on it as their main food source. With drought continuing to be a rising problem in Africa, this is a dangerous situation. It’s all the more dangerous because half of all global population growth between now and 2050 will likely take place in Africa. According to the United Nations, the continent’s population could more than double by mid-century, to 2.4 billion.

This should matter to everyone – for humanitarian reasons, obviously, but also because hunger can create wars, refugees and other international crises.

Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) is a public/private partnership made up of government organizations, non-for-profits and public companies. The partnership is led by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) based in Kenya and is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G. Buffet Foundation and USAID. Other partners include CIMMYT and five national agricultural research systems (NARS) in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and South Africa. Together, the partners aim to produce a more consistent maize crop in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Monsanto has been participating in WEMA since 2008, in several ways:

  • Using conventional, non-biotech methods, the company has developed and donated to the partnership hybrids of corn that are drought, insect and pest-resistant.
  • The company has also donated, royalty-free, the same genetically modified traits of water-use efficiency and insect-resistance that it developed for commercial global markets.
  • Monsanto also is donating “germplasm” -- some 600 inbred lines of corn from its proprietary global inventory of corn plants, which will be used to develop better breeds in Africa by African seed companies. The company’s donation may be the largest donation of its kind by any company ever.
  • Finally, Monsanto is contributing in-kind staff support in a wide range of technical and business areas.

The goal: By 2017, Monsanto wants to improve to the food security and livelihoods of more than 25 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa. The project is in its sixth year and a significant milestone is underway now: the first WEMA conventional hybrid (non-biotech) is being distributed to smallholder farmers in Kenya for planting.