Smallholder farmers from Western Kenya are sighing with relief thanks to a novel innovation unveiled by global research bodies to contain the striga weed that is wreaking havoc on the crop.
The striga weed that has been endemic in bread basket of western Kenya is to blame for reduced maize harvest while escalating food insecurity and poverty among households.
It can survive in the soils for a lengthy period while insufficient knowledge among farmers has worsened its spread.
Maize farmers in Western Kenya were at some point forced to abandon cultivation of the critical staple due to striga weed attack amid absence of interventions to contain it such as herbicides.
Donald Wanzala, a farmer in Budalangi region of western Kenya quit maize growing for cassava after incurring huge yield losses.
“I am reverting to maize cultivation after the announcement that new striga weed resistant maize has been developed by scientists,” Wanzala, 56 years, told Xinhua in an interview on Tuesday.
The small holder farmer disclosed that he stopped growing maize, a staple food in the region because he incurred heavy losses due to the striga weed.
But with the new technology now available, he is determined to start growing maize since the new maize variety, Imazapyr resistant herbicide – coated seed kills striga before it damages the crop.
Gospel Omanya, a scientist at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), and a lead striga expert said that the weed that sells under the name StrigAway is coated with low doses of the herbicide that is attached to the maize roots stimulating germinating maize, killing striga seeds before causing any damage.
“The herbicide that is not absorbed by the maize plant diffuses into the soil and kills striga seeds that have not germinated,” Omanya revealed.
The scientist said that the seed is now available in Kenya and Tanzania while trials are ongoing in Uganda and Ethiopia while an evaluation is also ongoing in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland.
“Extensive on farm testing of ordinary maize and the new hybrid on farmer’s fields under striga infestation found that StrigAway coated seed yields were three times those of ordinary maize,” said Omanya
He added that, apart from its striga control qualities, the maize is resistant to maize streak virus and Turcicum, thus reducing its impact on maize production in the continent.
According to the scientist, the weed that takes 25 years in the soil is heavily felt by farmers who rely on growing the crop every year.
This is a welcome relief to Wanzala and other maize farmers since besides the new development, the seed is now being multiplied by contracted seed companies so that it can reach all parts of the country where maize is gown in large hectare.
Omanya said that the new seed variety is capable of reducing maize losses from striga weed in East Africa.
He revealed that so far 100,000 farmers are planting the new seed variety in a 25,000 hectares piece of land.
In Africa, the invasion affects 1.5 million hectares of land and over 40 million hectares across Sub Saharan Africa (SSA).
“I have in the past uprooted the striga flowers, burned the weed and used pull and push method by planting groundnuts to no avail,” Miriam Osele, a maize farmer in Suba, Homa Bay County, told Xinhua.
The 65-year-old Osele, who also stopped growing maize, challenged the government to avail the seeds in all parts of the country to help change the attitude towards maize growing that has been abandoned by many farmers in the last few years.
Omanya however noted that courtesy of Feed the Future, a U.S. government funded initiative, seven seed companies, including three in Kenya have been given resources to mass produce and market the seeds.
A total of 3 million U.S. dollars has been given to Kenya Seed, Freshco and Elgon in Kenya, Meru Agro and Tanseed and Naseco and Victoria in Tanzania and Uganda respectively through AATF to speed up the production of seeds.
Striga is capable of causing maize crop loss from 20-80 percent and sometimes a 100 percent forcing farmers to grow alternative crops that are not affected by the weed.
Imazapyr Resistant Maize (IR Maize) that is now selling as StrigAway was developed by scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Weizmann Institute for Science, and BASF chemical company. Enditem