Scientist launches high yielding,striga resistant maize varieties

Maize farmers in Kenya and East Africa are set to benefit from two new hybrid maize varieties that are not only resistant to the deadly parasitic Striga weed, but also resistant to the dreaded Maize Lethal necrotic (MLN) disease that last year wiped thousands of acres of maize crops in Kenya's breadbasket area of Rift Valley threatening millions of Kenyans with  starvation. The varieties are also fast maturing, in 80 days compared to 125 for the traditional varities, and produce ten times more yields than conventional varieties.

The new varieties with code name MASENO EH12 and MASENO EH14 have been developed by a Kenyan scientist Professor Mathews Dida, from the School of Agriculture and Food Security at Maseno University after an ambitious decade long research process. The two hybrid maize varieties  produce a natural chemical that suppresses the growth of Striga weed, also known as witch-weed. “They suppress the weed and a few that manage to germinate does so later and are over powered by the chemical in the maize and eventually do not live to their maturity,” explained Dida.

Striga, a highly invasive parasitic weed, infests 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.

The lethal weed usually thrives in the warm and humid tropics but is now spreading to cooler and wetter highlands as a result of warmer soils driven by global warming and low soil fertility, which provides the right conditions for Striga to thrive.

According to Dida, the two varieties are a breakthrough since they guarantee yields of over 5 tonnes per hectares in a striga infested farm as compared to the current ones in the market which guarantees a farmer less than a tonne per hectare in striga infested farm. In addition, the varieties are high yielding as a farmer can harvest over 10 tonnes per hectare in a striga free land.

MASENO EH12 has an extra edge as it is also resistant to the deadly Maize Lethal necrotic (MLN) disease that is giving farmers sleepless nights. The disease, maize lethal necrotic (MLN), which is spread by insects and wind from one plant to another caused a havoc in maize farm with farmers recording over 30 percent loss in their yields in the last harvesting season.

The new maize varieties have already undergone Distinctness Uniformity and Stability tests, which were done by the country’s seed regulator Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) to establish if a newly developed seed variety is clearly distinguishable from existing varieties on the market.

Commercialization of the seed is expected to kick off after a period of one year where the varieties will be available to farmers

Dida says the new varieties could contribute to food security and poverty alleviation in Kenya and the entire East Africa region."These newly developed maize hybrids have passed national performance trials conducted between 2009 and 2011. All requisite assessment by KEPHIS, which ascertains effectiveness of newly developed seeds, points to their success and based on the success the regulator noted that the demand for such seeds is high in the country and recommended for their commercialization," he said

The new varieties also have quick maturity qualities. Dida noted that the new varieties mature between 20 and 50 days earlier than those currently on the market. "They flower in 60 days and mature in 80 days. This represents a reduction from 125 to 80 days," he explained,  Although the seeds may thrive in almost all parts of the country, Dida focused their suitability on mid-elevation areas and lowlands, such as the Lake Victoria region, and coastal parts of the country which receive relatively scarce rainfall.