Researchers fight witch weed with new technology

Kenyan maize farmers how have a chance to smile after local scientists recently launched a new technology that pro tects new hybrid maize from  the deadly striga weed that is farmers' biggest headache responsible that has already infected some 200,000 hectares of Kenya’s farmland and causes crop losses worth an estimated $50m each year by reducing yield by between 65 and 100 per cent.

Researchers now say that the high breed maize locally  known as Ua Kayongo which majority of farmers across the country have embraced in planting, has been their focus as striga weed seem to have now targeted it.
The new Striga management  technology involves coating the  seed maize with a herbicide known  as Imazapyr (IR) – a mechanism  referred to as imazapyr resistance(IR).  Imazapyr is marketed under the trade name StrigaWay and only 30  grammes of imazapyr coated onto  seed is sufficient to protect one hectare of maize from Striga for up  to eight weeks.

 According to lead researcher Haron G. Karaya  this allows Ua Kayongo  to grow to  full potential as it is capable of destroying striga at the time it has attached  itself to the maize root.
“Herbicide that is not absorbed by  the maize seedling diffuses into the  surrounding soil and kills un germinated striga seeds, explained Karaya.  Resistance is derived from a naturally occurring gene in maize originally  identified by BASF and made available  to CIMMYT.

Striga weed commonly referred to as the witch weed, affects smallholder  farmers growing maize, who can  hardly afford costly herbicides for  fighting the parasitic weed.
Farms in the Lake Victoria  basin have been the worst hit by the witch weed with reports indicating that farmers lose  300,000 tones or three million bags  worth US$132 million of maize grain  every year in the region.
Tegemeo Institute of Agriculture  Policy and Development at Egerton  University says the country produced  23 million bags in the 2011/2012 fiscal  year.

This is against the country’s consumption of 37 million bags of maize,  creating a deficit of nearly a
half, a situation they say could have been avoided if striga had been kept at bay.
According to experts, the technology is expected to boost maize yields  by about 38-80 percent than those  currently obtained from traditional  maize varieties.
According to government estimates, when adopted the  proposed technology will lead to an
extra 375,000 tones, 4.2 million bags  enough to feed 3.4 million people of  maize in Western Kenya.

The IR – maize Striga control  technology has been developed by scientists at Kenya Agricultural Research  Institute (KARI), CIMMYT, Weizman  Institute of Science and BASF – The  Chemical Company.

According to the Kenya Seed managing director, Willy  Bett the amount to be  earned once the technology is adopted translates to Sh440 million annually in Kenya.

 “The technology is God sent in  Nyanza and Western Kenya that  traditionally are food deficient and are
badly hit by striga,” explained the  Bett.
The initiative is being undertaken  under the Striga Control Project  launched in 2005 with the objective  of increasing maize productivity in  Sub-Saharan Africa by significantly  reducing infestation and damage by  Striga on smallholder farms.

Seed Systems Manager at the  African Agricultural Technology  Foundation (AATF), Dr Gospel Omanya
laments the delivery and adoption of  new agricultural technologies in Africa has been elusive.
“Numerous reasons have been cited  for this trend, among them lack of  awareness and difficulties in appropriately tailoring the technologies  towards smallholder farming systems,” says Dr Omanya, noting:
“Many smallholder farmers lack  adequate resources to acquire the  technologies. Climate challenges, such  as highly erratic and un even  distribution of rainfall, complicate the
issue even further.”

The researchers now plan to roll out the technology in the 47 counties before the next season through the farmer field schools.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter