by Peter Mutai
NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Striga weed, the
purple, beautiful looking flower nicknamed "witch weed" in
Western Kenya has for many decades flourished in areas with low
soil fertility and mono-cropping.
These regions have
developed very high levels of long lived striga seeds in the
soil that regenerates every year as farmers prepare land for new
Due to lack of control measures, limited knowledge on the
challenge and costly herbicide use, thousands of maize farmers
in this region have abandoned maize growing for other crops that
are more resistant to the weed.
Donald Wanzala, a farmer in Budalangi region of western Kenya
quit maize growing for cassava after incurring huge yield
However, the small holder farmer changed his mind and turn
back to maize, a staple food in the region, recently.
"I am reverting to maize cultivation after the announcement
that a new striga weed resistant maize has been developed by
scientists," Wanzala, 56 years, told Xinhua during an interview
With new technology now available, he is determined to start
growing maize since the new maize variety, Imazapyr resistant
herbicide-coated seed kills striga before it damages the crop.
Gospel Omanya, a scientist at the African Agricultural
Technology Foundation (AATF), and a lead striga expert said the
seed that sells under the name StrigAway is coated with low
doses of the herbicide that is attached to the maize roots
stimulating germinating maize, killing striga seeds before
causing any damage.
"The herbicide that is not absorbed by the maize plant
diffuses into the soil and kills striga seeds that have not
germinated," Omanya revealed.
The scientists said that the seed is now available in Kenya
and Tanzania while trials are ongoing in Uganda and Ethiopia
while an evaluation is also ongoing in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe,
Lesotho and Swaziland.
"Extensive farm testing of ordinary maize and the new hybrid
on farmer’s fields under striga infestation found that StrigAway
coated seed yields were three times those of ordinary maize,"
He added that, apart from its striga control qualities, the
maize is resistant to maize streak virus and Turcicum, thus
reducing its impact on maize production in the continent.
This is a welcome relief to Wanzala and other maize farmers
since besides the new development, the seed is now being
multiplied by contracted seed companies so that it can reach all
parts of the country where maize is gown in large hectare.
"I have in the past uprooted the striga flowers, burned the
weed and used pull and push method by planting groundnuts to no
avail," Miriam Osele, a maize farmer in Suba, Homa Bay County of
Western Kenya told Xinhua.
The 65 years old Osele, who also stopped growing maize,
challenged the government to avail the seeds in all parts of the
country to help change the attitude towards maize growing that
has been abandoned by many farmers in the last few years.
Striga weed is capable of causing maize crop loss from 20 to
80 percent and sometimes a 100 percent, forcing farmers to grow
alternative crops that are not affected by the weed.
Imazapyr Resistant Maize (IR Maize) that is now selling as
StrigAway was developed by scientists from the International
Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Kenya Agricultural and
Livestock Research Organization, Weizmann Institute for Science,
and BASF chemical company.