Vihiga farmers adopt maize that kills ‘purple witch’

Vihiga farmers have intensified their efforts to curb the devastating ‘purple’ witch using ‘the new Striga killer’ maize variety in an effort to save over 70 percent of arable land that is infested.

The initiative is being driven by Mwangaza Farmers Group Organization (MFAGRO) a local farmers’ group that has specialized in offering extension services to the farmers in the county. “Many of our land was left at the mercy of fate with infestation of this deadly weed and in order to ensure food security in the area, we had to find mitigating measures to save our staple crop, maize,” explained the head of the group, Dick morgan.

The war against the weed has been diversified and initiated together with scientists from the region like Professor George Odhiambo from Maseno University. The initial breakthrough was the development of a maize variety that was Striga tolerant. Morgan noted that although this variety assured farmers of their better yields, there was fear that the variety allowed the multiplication of the weed and eventually the main problem still persisted. Its’ behind this concept that scientists from Maseno university led by professor Odhiambo, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMTY) merged their efforts  to acquire a long lasting solution.

 The team managed to develop a maize variety that is proving to be a solution to the weed menace due to its ability to kill the weed.  Morgan explained that one maize seed of the IR 303 variety has ability to kill over 400 striga weed seeds in the soil.  According to Morgan, Striga is a parasite weed and only survives on the hosts’ body which includes maize, sorghum, rice and sugarcane. Therefore the fact that new maize variety has chemical components that instead of hosting the parasite kills it is a big milestone in the farmers’ quest to eliminate it from their farms.

MUFGRO has initiated efforts to ensure the adoption of the new maize variety. The group organizes field days where demonstration farms are set up in farms that are hard hit with the weed. After the farmers witnessing the growth of the maize without being affected by any striga weed, they are then given the maize variety to try it out on their own. “We give out 1kg to farmers who want to try it out and after they have witnessed the effectiveness of the maize variety in dealing with the weed, they later on request to buy the seeds and plant them on large scale,” said Morgan.

 Due to the fact that this striga killer variety is designed to fight the weed, the initial yields per acre may be minimal at about 8 bags. Morgan explained that the main reason for this is the fact that the weed depletes nutrients in the soil and therefore after the successful elimination of the weed by the maize in the first season, the soils begin regaining their fertility and the yields also gradually increase. “Farmers can register increased yield in the subsequent season to about 12-16 bags,” he noted.

The new maize variety has been commercialized by Western Seed Company. MFAGRO retails the maize to the farmers in the County at about Sh180 per kilo. Morgan noted that the team does not just retail the maize but their sole goal is to ensure eradication of the weed.

The team is also fronting other scientific proven methods to deal with the weed like use of improved fallows and intercropping maize with leguminous crops like soya beans, beans among others. Morgan explained that this model curtails Striga germination due to the cold and moist conditions that the weed needs for its sprouting g in the initial 2-3 weeks of planting the host crop. “The host crop like maize has a certain liquid that it produces from its’ roots that the weed feeds on to enable its’ germination and this must happen in the initial 2 weeks after planting maize and under warm or hot conditions in the soil where the striga seeds lie.

However, when one intercrops maize with the leguminous crops, the soil condition becomes moist and cold since the legumes create a shade or mulching condition.” He added that it’s this inhibiting cold condition that deter the germination of the Striga and therefore the seeds in the soil end up dying due to the unfriendly conditions created.

As a result of this concerted efforts, Morgan noted that the county has reclaimed almost half of the land that was striga infested. Our efforts are bearing fruits because most of the farmers that we have enlightened have found solace in these methods and bit by bit we are reclaiming our once lost land.  According to him, once all the farmers are empowered on the new discoveries, then the country will be Striga free hence enhancing food security.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, Striga causes yield losses of between 30-100percent, worth USD 1 billion and affect livelihoods of about 100 million people. Studies show 76percent of farmland in west Kenya – about 210,000 hectares – is infested with Striga. What this means is that a farmer whose crop is attacked by Striga could lose a whole crop and any harvests would not be sufficient to feed the family and contribute to the family’s livelihood hence experts are upbeat about the new discoveries that have been made.