A new public-private partnership project, Feed the Future Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa (SSSfA), has been launched in Kenya and Ethiopia. SSSfA is a project that utilizes CRISPR genome editing technology to develop new sorghum varieties resistant to Striga. Striga is a parasitic weed responsible for up to 100 percent yield loss in Africa’s staple cereals, thus posing a great danger to the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers on the continent.
The three-year multi-institutional, multi-sectoral project is supported by the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, and led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID has awarded nearly US$3.8 million to support the lead partners, namely the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter, Kenyatta University (Kenya), and Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia).
In Kenya, Dr. Gatama Gichini, a representative of Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary, presided over the project launch. He was joined by Kenyatta University Vice Chancellor Prof. Paul Wainaina, among other dignitaries. In his speech, read by Dr. Gichini, Education Cabinet Secretary congratulated Kenyatta University, ISAAA AfriCenter, and their partners for their zeal and hard work in securing funding for this project. He expressed confidence that the project will contribute towards the attainment of the Government’s agricultural and economic goals, especially in prioritizing sorghum as one of the alternatives to maize. “The Ministry encourages the partners to anchor the project within Government agricultural programs for synergy and optimum success,” he said. Prof. Wainaina underscored that the importance of the project is strengthening the capacity for scientists to engage stakeholders effectively through effective science communication. “This will go a long way in instilling public confidence and ensuring evidence-based decision-making at all levels,” the VC remarked.
The lead partners have hailed the project as a game-changer in Africa’s quest to combat the effects of climate change on agriculture. “We are grateful for this outstanding award. This is a clear demonstration of USAID’s strong commitment to address our continent’s agricultural challenges and empower African smallholder farmers through yield improvement interventions,” said Dr. Margaret Karembu, SSSfA primary contact.
Another project contact, Prof. Steven Runo, called the new project a win for agriculture in the region. “Striga infestation is a real menace in sub-Saharan Africa. We convey our utmost gratitude to USAID for the big support in arresting this mammoth challenge and ensuring the region becomes food sufficient,” remarked Prof. Runo.
The developed Striga-Smart sorghum varieties will be registered for commercial cultivation. The success of commercialized genome-edited crops is expected to have a spill-over effect across Africa, as countries incorporate CRISPR in breeding superior, resilient, and climate-smart crop varieties.
For more information on SSSfA project, contact Dr. Margaret Karembu at email@example.com