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April 10, 2008

Tanzania to take part in drought-tolerant maize project

Tanzania's government plans to enter into a 10-year public-private partnership on drought-tolerant maize varieties for small-scale farmers.

The partnership was recently launched in Kampala in response to a growing call by African farmers, leaders and scientists to address devastating effects of drought on small-scale farmers and their families.

Agriculture and Technology researcher in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Dr Alais Kullaya, is quoted in a local daily as saying the initiative is aimed at alleviating hunger and poverty.

Kullaya said that new drought-tolerance technologies have already been licensed without charge and can be developed, tested, and eventually distributed to African seed companies without royalty and made available to smallholder farmers.

He said that the transgenic drought-tolerant maize hybrids would be available in about ten years. Risk of crop failure from drought is one of the primary reasons that made small-scale farmers in Africa not adopt improved farming practices.

The project would involve local institutions, both public and private, and in the process expand their capacity and experience in crop breeding, biotechnology, and biosafety, according to the ministry researcher.

The programme partners predict that maize products developed over the next 10 years could increase yields by 20 to 35 percent under moderate drought, compared to current varieties.

Maize is the most widely grown staple crop in Africa: more than 300 million Africans depend on it as their main food source.

However, the crop is severely affected by frequent drought. In the next five years, the partnership will develop new maize varieties, incorporating the best drought-tolerance technologies available internationally.

Africa Science News Service

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