Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) is a project financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to the tune of US $85 million. The project attempts to increase production of maize in Sub Saharan Africa through the provision of drought resistant maize varieties. The program has two major components: a conventional hybrid maize breeding program, and a program that focuses on creating GM drought-tolerant maize varieties. In addition, the project is working to establish acceptance of GM crops throughout Africa.
In a recently published report, AGRA Watch partner, the African Center for Biodiversity (ACB) indicates that WEMA and other Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) projects provide only false solutions to the impacts of climate change on agricultural production in Sub Saharan Africa. To support this argument, the ACB cites insignificant yield increases from the use of GE crops, and the problems associated with the privatization of Africa’s seed systems, which WEMA and other CSA inspired projects depend on.
The report opens by providing context regarding the divergence of opinion when it comes to promoting agriculture in Sub Saharan Africa; It describes the environmentally sustainable, socially just, and democratic approach, which has been termed “food sovereignty”; while the alternative, “Climate Smart Agriculture” is described as “an updated green revolution model that relies on expensive and ecologically harmful inputs, GM crops and the ever increasing commodification of social and ecological relations.” WEMA is a prime example of “Climate Smart Agriculture,” and the ACB feels that it other CSA inspired projects will provide insignificant yield increases and have detrimental impacts on the continent.
In concluding, the report provides suggestions as to how the Gates Foundation and other donors should support agriculture in Africa; they suggest investing in the long-term monitoring of socio-economic and environmental impacts of hybrid and GM maize varieties, the prohibition of funding for GM crop research in Africa, increased interaction between farmers and the research sector, public-sector led research into crops that are naturally suited for dry climates, implementation and research of agroecological production, and transparency when it comes to access and benefit sharing of Africa’s rich biodiversity.
Read the report to learn more!