Introduction: While the African hunger crisis is a situation the world has known about for a while, there is still a requirement for significant measures towards improving the food shortage scenario. The cost of the hunger crisis in Africa is adversely affecting the health and the well being, thereby affecting the economy of the continent. The situation itself is in dire need of reform- there are more stunted children in Africa now than 20 years ago. Between 69 to 82 % of the total cases of children under nutrition are not properly treated. Most of the health costs associated with under nutrition occurs before the child turns one. Between 7 to 16 percent of repetitions in school are associated with stunting. Stunted children achieve 0.2 years to 1.2 years less in school education. 8 to 28 percent of all child mortality is associated with under nutrition. Child mortality associated with under nutrition has reduced national workforces by 1 percent. 40 to 67 % of working-age populations suffered from stunting as children. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has warned that 1.4 million children are at imminent risk of death in just four countries: Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. All four are in the midst of civil wars or insurgencies. The current scenario in Asia is also in dire need of reform – 70% of all malnourished children in the world live in Asia. Around 512 million adults and children in Asia consume too few calories, which accounts for over 12% of the total population of Asia. India and Bangladesh have the highest rates (16%) of malnutrition and the most numbers of the hungry in Asia. In Asia, 17% of females and 13% of males are underweight on average (BMI<18.5). These consequences of hunger must be addressed in a cost effective way. This is important for the Seed Industry and for the Seed Market.
WEMA: As per Seed Business Review More than 300 million Africans depend on Maize as their main food source – and it is severely affected by frequent drought. Aside from drought, Insects – particularly stem borers – present a challenge to farmers in Sub–Saharan Africa. These insects feed on the surviving maize and reduce the plant’s ability to use limited water and nutrients. Drought tolerance has been recognized as one of the most important targets of crop improvement programs, and biotechnology has been identified as a powerful tool to achieve significant drought tolerance. The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is coordinating a public-private partnership called Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) to develop drought-tolerant and insect-protected maize using conventional breeding, marker-assisted breeding, and biotechnology, with a goal to make these varieties available royalty-free to smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa through African seed companies. The crop is a major innovation towards producing a stable source of food in African countries which usually have weather unfavorable to grow crops. Scientists have observed unexpected benefits in Mozambique’s WEMA field trials upon testing- Though the maize varieties were genetically engineered to withstand drought and the vicious stem borer pest, they’re also showing promising resistance to the destructive fall armyworm pest,which is another major cause for damage to crops in Africa. In Mozambique alone, between 282,000 and 712,000 tonnes of maize were lost to the fall armyworm last year, costing the country’s economy between USD 83.8 and USD 208.7 million. The damage from stem borers is a major causal factor towards adopting WEMA as the insect damage reduces the yield by up to 40%. The WEMA varieties have been developed through collaboration between the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and government research institutions in six African nations using gene technology donated by Monsanto. Since the resulting seeds market is royalty-free, local seed companies can make them available to smallholder farmers at affordable prices. Early results from Mozambique indicate the genetically modified WEMA seeds can offer significant protection against insect pests — without the use of pesticides. This has positive implications for the other nations that are developing WEMA varieties, including Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Ethiopia.
Scope: The introduction of WEMA presents a major opportunity to curb with hunger crisis existing in African countries and also presents an opportunity for large scale growth of crops that are more tolerant and capable of growing in a harsher climate. Countries like Mexico where inadequate weather for Maize production causes a lack in quantity produced forcing the country to import Maize can utilize these seeds to bolster the production of Maize domestically reducing reliance on other countries and improving the welfare for the domestic population. Further application once WEMA is made mainstream could lead to it being implemented in other developing markets in European and majorly in Asia Pacific regions.
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Ankur Gupta, Head Marketing & Communications