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