David vs Goliath

One day I was meeting with some potential funders of my research group and I was explaining to them that, apart from our work on maize resistant to maize streak virus, we were also embarking on tolerance to drought. ‘But what if there isn’t a drought?’ asked one of them, who lives in the UK. People there who knew me well told me they had never before seen me at a loss for words.

Drought is nothing new to sub-Saharan Africa. Newspaper headlines in July 2004 read ‘Severe drought depletes SA’. ‘The country remains in the grip of one of the worst droughts in recent years, costing the government millions of rands in relief funding’ (IOL News, 2004). NASA’s earth observatory reported that hot, dry weather from January to March 2007 wilted crops in southern Africa. The severe drought produced near-record temperatures that, combined with a lack of rainfall, caused extensive crop damage. In 2011 the eastern parts of the horn of Africa experienced the worst drought in several decades, resulting in the most severe food security emergency in the world, driven mainly by a combination of food availability and access issues. Two consecutive seasons of significantly below-average rainfall have resulted in failed crop production, depletion of grazing resources and significant livestock mortality (FAO, 2011).

 
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