Becoming drought resilient: Why African farmers must consider drought tolerant crops

Source(s): Inter Press Service International Association

By Esther Ngumbi, Distinguished Post Doctoral Researcher, Entomology Department at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Illinois


Drought tolerant crops — like maizecowpeas and rice — have been bred through conventional plant breeding techniques or biotechnology and continue to grow and produce even when rains fail. They’ve been around since the 20th century, but the last two decades have seen an increase in drought tolerance research that targets staple crops like maize, rice and wheat.


But, there are still several hurdles to overcome.

For example, unlike traditional seeds, drought tolerant seeds have to be bought every year. Though drought tolerant crops produce seeds, they lose some of their drought protection capacities so farmers are encouraged to buy new seeds, not save them from the previous harvest. Many farmers are afraid of being locked in this cycle of financial obligation.

Secondly, just like any other new technology, there are several determinants to whether it’s successfully adopted by farmers. For the case of drought tolerant crops, research shows that early adopters to drought tolerant maize are more educated and have better access to agricultural extension personnel.

Nevertheless, research has demonstrated that the pros of adoption, and costs involved, outweigh the cons. And the good news is that drought tolerant crops are available across Africa. For the past decade, institutions like the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, Kenya’s Agricultural Research Institute and private foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have invested in breeding and strengthening the adoption of drought tolerant crop varieties across the continent.


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