NAIROBI, (Xinhua) --
Samuel Owiti in 2005 dusted his hands off chalk
dust and replaced his teaching garb with gumboots and hoes as he
embarked on a new career as a farmer in his ancestral village,
located 90 kilometers from western Kenyan city of Kisumu.
For the following
seven good years, Owiti tirelessly tilled his land and did what
any other farmers did. However, at the end of every season, he
plunged into despair as his barren farm could not even yield
enough to feed his family.
Owiti was a victim
of striga weed, which is commonly referred to as witch weed in
the region due to its potency in rendering any farm they infest
“I knew what was
ailing my farm but I had limited options as by then we didn’t
have any information on how to deal with the menace that’s
striga weed,” he told Xinhua during a recent interview.
In 2012, Owiti’s
prayers were answered. His farm was picked for trials in a
project by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)
seeking to rid farms of the lethal weed.
The AATF has
partnered with seven seed companies to commercialize StrigAway,
an imazapyr-resistant improved maize seed variety that has so
far proved effective in evading the effects of the potent weed.
According to Gospel
Omanya, a senior manager for Deployment at AATF, the herbicide
in the StrigAway maize seed prevents the weed from attaching to
the maize plant. This means fields can be virtually clear of the
pest plant throughout the season.
“Because these are
herbicide-coated seeds, this partnership provides training to
meet strict handling requirements as well as automated seed
treating equipment,” said Omanya.
In Kenya, Tanzania,
and Uganda, striga infests over 1 million hectares of farmland
and up to 50 million hectares in sub-Saharan African.
The weed, Omanya
explained to Xinhua, causes farmers to lose between a third to
100 percent of their staple crops, leading to hunger and
According to Omanya,
a single striga weed can produce up to 50,000 seeds and these
seeds can stay in the soil for up to 25 years waiting for
something to feed on as it can not grow on its own.
So far, he said
about 75,000 households in the region are now using the StigAway
maize on their farms.
such as drought-tolerant hybrids and StrigAway varieties that
can effectively mitigate pest and disease attack, coupled by
irrigation, Omanya said Kenya’s production of maize, a staple
food crop for many households, can be greatly enhanced.
In addition, other
crops like sorghum, millets, cowpeas and beans can also be
cultivated to complement the household food security
Zachary Odero, a
Ministry of Agriculture Extension Officer in the region, said
the project had transformed farming in the region as many
farmers are now aware of the different options at their disposal
in dealing with the weed.
“We have done a lot
of awareness on the StrigAway maize and most farmers now use it
on their farms, there has been a lot of improvement in yields.
Some farmers now can harvest enough to feed their families and
even have surplus for sale,” said Odero.
Apart from the
StigAway maize, Odero said farmers have also been encouraged to
embrace traditional approaches to controlling striga, which
include crop rotation, intercropping, and various other planting
methods are time-consuming and have limited results, especially
for smallholders who make up 70 to 80 percent of the farmers in
On average, Kenya
produces 40 million 90-kilogram bags of maize annually, and per
capita consumption of the cereal is around 90 kilograms (or one
bag of maize).
drought, which started with erratic short rains in October 2016,
depressed harvests of maize.
Tanzania and Uganda,
countries that Kenya turns to plug its deficit, have also been
ravaged by the drought that reduced their harvests.