Samuel Owiti in 2005 dusted his hands off chalk dust and replaced his teaching garb with gumboots and hoes as he embarked on a new career as a farmer in his ancestral village, located 90 kilometers from western Kenyan city of Kisumu.
For the following seven good years, Owiti tirelessly tilled his land and did what any other farmers did. However, at the end of every season, he plunged into despair as his barren farm could not even yield enough to feed his family.
Owiti was a victim of striga weed, which is commonly referred to as witch weed in the region due to its potency in rendering any farm they infest barren.
“I knew what was ailing my farm but I had limited options as by then we didn’t have any information on how to deal with the menace that’s striga weed,” he told Xinhua during a recent interview.
In 2012, Owiti’s prayers were answered. His farm was picked for trials in a project by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) seeking to rid farms of the lethal weed.
The AATF has partnered with seven seed companies to commercialize StrigAway, an imazapyr-resistant improved maize seed variety that has so far proved effective in evading the effects of the potent weed.
According to Gospel Omanya, a senior manager for Deployment at AATF, the herbicide in the StrigAway maize seed prevents the weed from attaching to the maize plant. This means fields can be virtually clear of the pest plant throughout the season.
“Because these are herbicide-coated seeds, this partnership provides training to meet strict handling requirements as well as automated seed treating equipment,” said Omanya.
In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, striga infests over 1 million hectares of farmland and up to 50 million hectares in sub-Saharan African.
The weed, Omanya explained to Xinhua, causes farmers to lose between a third to 100 percent of their staple crops, leading to hunger and financial hardship.
According to Omanya, a single striga weed can produce up to 50,000 seeds and these seeds can stay in the soil for up to 25 years waiting for something to feed on as it can not grow on its own.
So far, he said about 75,000 households in the region are now using the StigAway maize on their farms.
With technologies such as drought-tolerant hybrids and StrigAway varieties that can effectively mitigate pest and disease attack, coupled by irrigation, Omanya said Kenya’s production of maize, a staple food crop for many households, can be greatly enhanced.
In addition, other crops like sorghum, millets, cowpeas and beans can also be cultivated to complement the household food security requirements.
Zachary Odero, a Ministry of Agriculture Extension Officer in the region, said the project had transformed farming in the region as many farmers are now aware of the different options at their disposal in dealing with the weed.
“We have done a lot of awareness on the StrigAway maize and most farmers now use it on their farms, there has been a lot of improvement in yields. Some farmers now can harvest enough to feed their families and even have surplus for sale,” said Odero.
Apart from the StigAway maize, Odero said farmers have also been encouraged to embrace traditional approaches to controlling striga, which include crop rotation, intercropping, and various other planting techniques.
However, these methods are time-consuming and have limited results, especially for smallholders who make up 70 to 80 percent of the farmers in this region.
On average, Kenya produces 40 million 90-kilogram bags of maize annually, and per capita consumption of the cereal is around 90 kilograms (or one bag of maize).
An unyielding drought, which started with erratic short rains in October 2016, depressed harvests of maize.
Tanzania and Uganda, countries that Kenya turns to plug its deficit, have also been ravaged by the drought that reduced their harvests. Enditem