Seed Solutions To Help Small-Scale Farmers Survive and Thrive

Posted by on April 13th, 2018 | 0 Comments »

Crop diseases, pests and drought are significant threats to the food security, nutrition and livelihoods of small-scale farmers.

In Africa, farmers are struggling to combat fall armyworm, a pest that is devastating maize crops across the continent (see GIF below).

The UK Department for International Development (DfID) estimates that in 12 African countries (including Tanzania and Uganda, but not Kenya) the economic losses from fall armyworm could range from $2.5 billion to $6.3 billion. [1]

Losses on this scale will drastically increase food and income insecurity in the region, particularly for the millions of small-scale farmers who rely on maize as a source of calories and income.


Fall armyworm can be found in maize producing regions around the world.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and global research institutions are providing development agencies, farmers and researchers in Africa with vital information on fall armyworm biology and control measures.

Farmers in the U.S. and Brazil use maize varieties that are genetically modified to enable the plants to resist fall armyworm.

Currently, most African countries do not permit the sale and use of genetically modified seeds.

African farmers are encouraged to use an integrated pest management system by applying chemical and organic pesticides, removing the pests by hand and inter-cropping their maize with beans to combat the fall armyworm.

These approaches provide some crop protection, but they are labor-intensive and do not have the same level of pest resistance as the advanced seed technologies used in other parts of the world.

Private Sector Developing Seed Solutions for African Farmers

In 2017, Corteva Agriscience™, Agriculture Division of DowDuPont, opened the Africa Regional Technology Hub to accelerate the development of seed products that meet the specific needs of African farmers and comply with government regulations in the region.

The Hub is comprised of several research facilities, including Africa’s biggest private Insectary, where the DNA of crop pests can be studied and stored.

The Corteva Agriscience™ Africa Regional Technology Center in Delmas, South Africa. This is one of the facilities in the company’s Africa Research Hub that produces seed solutions for drought-tolerance and disease and pest resistance. The Africa Research Hub also has a biotechnology partnership to develop biofortified sorghum varieties which improve the Vitamin A, zinc and iron content of the crop.

The Insectary will be critical to the development of seed traits that can combat local yield-robbing pests, such as the fall armyworm.

The DNA and dispersal patterns of pests can vary across geographies. For example, the fall armyworm destroying crops in Africa has a different genetic code than its relatives in other parts of the world.

As a result, seed traits that effectively combat a pest in one region may not be as effective in another.

At the Insectary, researchers will have the resources to develop traits to combat the specific pests harming crops in Africa and create seed technologies that can be sold on the African market.

Research Collaboration For Crops Millions of People Eat

The private sector is also collaborating with international research institutions to develop seed technologies for small-scale farmers in dryland regions across Africa and India.

In April 2018, Corteva Agriscience™ and the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) announced a partnership to share high-tech breeding technologies to improve the productivity and resilience of sorghum and millet.

Sorghum and millet are drought-resistant crops and essential sources of human and animal nutrition in dryland regions.

Advanced seed breeding technologies, including CRISPR-Cas, will be used to improve the environmental adaptability and productivity of sorghum and millet.

In a press release announcing the partnership, Tom Greene of Corteva Agriscience™ said, “The combination of experience from our scientists and refinement of new technologies offer promising areas for research and development.” [2]

A pearl millet farmer with part of her harvest. Photo credit: ICRISAT


Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur, ICRISAT Principal Investigator said that the partnership will result in “more productive crops and a more prosperous future for smallholder farmers.” [3]

Click here to read a story from the 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) about research to improve sorghum and millet crops in India and Africa.


[1] Kevin Kelly, “Kenya faces huge losses from armyworm, U.S. warns,” Daily Nation (Kenya), April 10, 2018
[2,3] Press Release, Hyderabad, India, (April 12, 2018): ICRISAT and Corteva Agriscience™, Agriculture Division of DowDupont Collaborate for Sharing Advanced Breeding Technologies to Improve Crops That Feed Millions.

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