TANZANIA – Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has availed US$24.6 million meant to commercialize insect-resistant and drought-tolerant maize seed with a long term goal of boosting maize production in Tanzania and the region.

According to Daily News, the grant has been channelled through African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

The foundation is mandated to make new drought-tolerant and insect resistant maize hybrids available to farmers in the region in a bid to tackle challenges faced by maize farmers in the production of the crop.

Challenges facing maize farmers in this region include high, production cost, unstable prices, competition but the funding aims at tackling the problem of drought, pests and diseases.

The new maize hybrids (branded as TELA maize) have been enhanced through biotechnology to improve their drought tolerance and ability to resist attacks by insects.

The seeds have been tested in field trials in Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda, and shown increased drought tolerance, excellent protection against stem borers, and partial but significant protection against the newest menace, Fall Armyworm.

The TELA hybrids are yielding on average 30% more than conventional hybrids and when insect attacks are intense, the new hybrids yield 50% more.

This investment in Africa follows a first joint initiative with the EU, announced on 12 December 2017 at the One Planet Summit in Paris, to support the development of tools and techniques to benefit smallholder farmers in developing countries.

Then, the EU Commission, together with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed US$315.14 million and US$300m respectively in investments to finance agricultural research.

These efforts were geared at helping the world’s poorest farmers better adapt to increasingly challenging growing conditions brought about by climate change.