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Nairobi tech firm gets Sh2bn for maize hybrids

Denis Kyetere
African Agricultural Technology Foundation executive director Denis Kyetere. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A Nairobi-based appropriate tech firm has received Sh2.46 billion to pursue regulatory approval for commercialisation of drought-tolerant and insect-resistant maize hybrids.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to non-state research agency African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) will be used to fast-track adoption of the newly developed maize hybrid, Tela, that has proved resilient even against the fall armyworm. Field trials have taken place in Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda.

African Agricultural Technology Foundation executive director Denis Kyetere said they would engage the government to have the bio-technologically improved maize seeds approved for multiplication and sale to smallholder farmers.

“This is indeed great news for AATF, smallholder farmers and our partners that the Gates Foundation and the United States Aid for International Development (USAid) value the role of biotechnology in addressing the effects of climate change across the continent,” he said.

Dr Kyetere said the grant together with USAid’s Sh500 million ongoing commitment to the Tela project would be spent on pursuing the regulatory approval and dissemination of the new biotech seeds in the six partner countries in Africa.

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The project brings together national agriculture research agencies in the six countries, Monsanto, CIMMYT and African seed firms under the AATF’s coordination. It expects to have the seeds available to farmers within the next five years.

The project, if successful, could wipe away bureaucracy where researchers and seed companies withhold the latest developed high-yielding seeds from farmers. This has witnessed continued poor harvests across Africa making millions of people sink deeper into poverty and become relief-dependent.

The AATF said East Africa loses up to 15 per cent of its maize harvest to stem borers annually while fall armyworms now threaten to destroy another 25 per cent.

“The Tela Maize Project builds on progress made from a decade of breeding work under the Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project where 101 conventional drought-tolerant maize hybrids (DroughtTego) and five Tela hybrids have since been released for commercialisation,” it said the AATF.

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