Drought-resistant crops in Africa - the tech fix they're cracked up to be?
By Oliver Balch
The evidence in favour of drought-resistant seeds is strong, says Kate Fehlenberg, from the not-for-profit Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa project (DTMA)... funded by the Gates Foundation. Over a five-year period, a total of 2.9 million farmers in 13 African countries covered by the DTMA project saw their yields increase by 20% to 30% after sowing a variety of drought-tolerant hybrids.
Fehlenberg says that the hurdle has less to do with science and more to do with distribution. “The challenge is to get [the seed] out to the farmers … You can have the best corn in the world but it’s no good if it’s sitting in the freezer.”
The solution, says Clare Oxborrow, senior food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth UK, is an approach to seed development, including drought-tolerant seeds, that prioritises local-led breeding and local knowledge.
Seeds are also only one piece of the puzzle, says Fehlenberg. Other important steps to increase resilience to drought include good farm management, effective irrigation, suitable crop insurance, and the use of crops suited to the local climate and soil.