Maize farmers in Africa who have made perennial losses in the past from drought and pests are likely to start making profits, thanks to a research partnership that included national research institutes.
Similarly, insects have proved a challenge for small scale maize farmers in Africa who have little to no resources to effectively manage them.
During drought, maize is particularly susceptible to pests and farmers can experience complete crop loss with devastating effects to their families.
But the good news is that the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) that was formed in 2008 to help address effects of drought and insect pest pressure in a cost effective way for African smallholder farmers is expected to bring to the market new resistant maize varieties next year.
"We are bringing to the table a new drought tolerant maize variety in the year 2013 to help save farmers from making loses," The project Manager Dr.Sylvester Oikeh said in Nairobi on Tuesday during a regional stakeholders meeting.
The forum was attended by scientists and policy makers from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and Mozambique.
He disclosed that the first two varieties that were developed at Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) have been undergoing viability tests at the National Performance Trials (NPT) center at Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) since 2010 are out early next year.
He said that once approved, the varieties will then be given out to seed companies to market to the farmers.
Oikeh noted that the poor African yields that has stagnated during the 1960-2010 while yields from other continents increase are set to improve tremendously.
"Appeal for food aid that has become an annual event may start reducing with the introduction of the new seed varieties as there will be increased maize volume in the market to serve additional number of consumers," he added.
He observed that the varieties are set to increase yields by 20- 35 percent and will be key to unlock the value of basic inputs to increase productivity in the continent.
Oikeh noted that Africa needs all appropriate tools in science and technology to help increase productivity and enhance food productivity since one-third of Africa's population are starving due to lack of food.
"The new varieties have the potential to increase yields under moderate drought, compared to available varieties available for farmers today," Kenya's Agriculture Secretary Dr. Wilson Songa said.
Songa revealed that from the yields, an additional two million tons of maize will be produced that could feed 14 ?C 21 million more people.
"It is important that scientists working on WEMA project work closely with policy makers as their partners to ensure that policies in scientific research lead to meaningful progress for both farmers and the countries," he added.
Songa noted that the maize varieties will help produce more reliable harvests and better grain quality, enough to help keep perennial hunger at bay for many Kenyans and people in the region.
He called on governments that have not put in place regulatory process to act immediately to allow the development of drought tolerant crops in their countries adding that Sub Saharan Africa will still rely on agriculture as the mainstay for economic growth.
"Let's move to genetic engineering which is necessary to help save our farmers from losing their crops to pests immediately after harvesting," he added.
According to the chairman of African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA) Jitu Shah, stakeholders must pool experience and knowledge in identifying and developing a clearly prioritized action plan for development that will improve the welfare of people while ensuring that the natural resource base is improved.
"We welcome the new seed development and hope that it will have a positive impact on farmers as it helps transform their future and the industry," he observed.
Shah however called on regional governments to harmonize their regulatory environment to help farmers gain from the technology transfer.
He noted that government policies on agriculture in the continent need to facilitate the drive towards transforming farming from subsistence to diversified commercial farming.
"Framers productivity is limited in the continent due to the fact that they have limited choice of improved seed variety of seeds besides restricted genetic material available," he noted.
Shah observed that more responsive seed once in the hands of farmers would help create new incentives for them to improve their soils, manage their crops and sell surpluses into local markets.
He attributed Africa's poor agricultural development to outdated policies, lack of farmer awareness and investment capital that prevent Africa's growing number of private, independent seed companies from extending a rich trove of improved varieties to farmers.
He revealed that the growth in seed industry has been remarkable in the past five years but there is need to rapidly increase seeds production to help meet the food demand by the population.
WEMA maize varieties are developed using conventional breeding, marker assisted breeding and transgenic breeding.