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August 16, 2011

African crop research group AATF receives US$ 1 million Gates Foundation grant

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) has received a US$1 million support package from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to facilitate the organisation’s operations, which seek to boost agricultural output through greater use of science and technology.

The funds will mainly support general operations, resource mobilisation as well as monitoring and evaluation of various on-going projects, which aim at helping small holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa improve their livelihoods and productivity through use of innovative technologies.

One of the major approaches of AATF aims at promoting agricultural research and technology dissemination and helping farmers gain access to proprietary technologies that are donated by public and private entities on royalty-free humanitarian basis. These technologies have the potential to address some of the key productivity constraints that affect these farmers. The costs of such technologies has been partly blamed for low uptake of useful technologies in Africa, but the AATF intervention is aimed at ensuring these technologies are affordable for smallholder farmers.

“The support from Gates Foundation will help AATF become a stronger institution and enhance its capacity to achieve its mission of helping African farmers improve their livelihoods through better agricultural technologies,’ says Dr. Jacob Mignouna, the Acting AATF Executive Director.

Through consultations to establish priorities and farmer demands, AATF projects aim at addressing the impact of climate change on crop productivity, loss of yield caused by pests and diseases, low soil productivity, poor plant breeding processes and low mechanization.

Based on the above priorities, AATF is working with various country institutions, both from government and private sector, in projects aimed at improving priority food crops in over ten African countries.

Currently, only about 20 per cent of cropland in Africa is sown with improved cereal varieties.

Many new varieties of maize and rice have been developed, and are in use in some countries, but they must be adapted to Africa's environmental conditions, a core mission of AATF projects.

Such projects include the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project, which seeks to develop maize varieties that can withstand the drought periods that the continent continues to experience.

Other projects include Striga control in smallholder maize farms, development of Marucaresistant cowpea varieties, improvement of banana for resistance to wilt disease and improving rice productivity in nitrogen and water-deficient environments.

One of the latest projects is the biological control of aflatoxin in maize and peanuts.

“We are dedicated to ensuring that this new support will make us a more efficient and effective institution and will translate into faster progress towards ensuring that existing technologies get to farmers' fields,” says Dr. Mignouna.


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