Behind the Seeds of WEMA
In 2008, a unique public-private partnership was established – dedicated to a critically important cause: providing smallholder farmers in Africa with better seeds to help them improve their harvests.
Seven years later, farmers across five African countries are reaping the benefits of that partnership known as the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. WEMA seeds have helped farmers realise better harvests and thereby enhance their quality of life.
Sylvester Oikeh is the WEMA project manager for the African Agricultural Technology Foundation AATF. He helped build the partnership from its infancy, and guides our continuing collaborative efforts to provide seeds that are ideal for conditions and farming practices in sub-Saharan Africa.
As director of Monsanto’s participation in WEMA, I’ve had the privilege of supporting Sylvester in these efforts over the past several years. I recently had the opportunity to ask him about the program’s progress and impact.
Q. What are you hearing from farmers who have been using new seeds available through WEMA?
A. There are some farmers who have told us that from a piece of land where they used to harvest half a bag they now harvest one and a half bags—three times more from planting WEMA hybrid seed.
Q. Are people encouraged by the results they’re seeing?
A. Yes, farmers are very encouraged by the harvest from WEMA hybrids. Not only that, but our field staff have noticed that the farmers are encouraging their neighboring farmers to also buy TEGO hybrid.
Q. What kind of signs of improvement, if any, are you seeing in the local agricultural economies?
A. With larger harvests, some farmers told us that they use a third of their harvest for food for their household needs, and sold the other portion to pay school fees for their children. Some even said that the extra portion not used to feed their family was sold to purchase farm inputs, including seed and fertilizers, for the following season.
Q. What can you tell me about the amount of seed getting to farmers? In what ways have there been improvements in techniques and education?
A. I must say that demand by farmers during the introductory phase of the TEGO hybrid seeds, which began in September 2013, has exceeded supply. However, we’ve managed to supply a total of 367 tons of seed that was sold to farmers or used to plant demonstration trials to create awareness in Western Kenya. In 2014, 76 field days were organized to further educate the farmers about the products. A total of 14,879 farmers participated and 60 percent of participants were women.
Q. What are the biggest things that have happened for WEMA this last year?
A. Since the commencement of the deployment of WEMA products in 2013, the project has released 35 hybrids and 9 parental lines for commercialization. We have witnessed a growing demand for WEMA hybrids in Kenya that the project and seed company partners have been unable to satisfy.
Q. How is the public-private partnership continuing to develop?
A. The success of the WEMA partnership is driven by three major pillars that have kept the partnership going since inception in 2008. The three pillars are a willingness to participate and share responsibilities to achieve a common goal; agreements with defined roles and responsibilities; and lastly, trust. Trust is the most important pillar that has sustained the partnership thus far.
Q. World hunger is a growing concern. How many lives would you estimate that the WEMA partnership has impacted?
A. With the deployment so far of 367 tons reaching 36,700 farm-households in Kenya, if we assume an average of 6 people per household, the products in Kenya alone would have impacted at least 220,200 lives since the deployment to farmers started in September 2013.
Q. Why is it so important for Africans to help Africans as this effort moves forward?
A. I am a strong believer that the solution to African food insecurity problems lies in the hands of the Africans themselves with support from their development partners. If this conviction is held by the African leaders and they can provide the necessary enabling environment, Africa will truly experience that desired growth and food security that everyone is anticipating.