To overcome Striga infestation overtaking maize fields in Kenya’s western province (IPS / allAfrica)

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Saving Kenya’s maize crop

Summary & Comment: Hybridization of a herbicide-resistant maize found in Kenya a decade ago will be used to overcome a weed infestion overtaking maize fields in Kenya’s western province. While care must be taken in the handling and planting of these maize seeds, farmers are looking forward to having a crop at the end of the growing season. CJW

Author: Isaiah Esipisu
Date Written: 18 March 2012
Primary Category: Food and Land
Document Origin: Inter Press Service
Secondary Category: Eastern Region
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While some maize farmers in Kenya’s Western Province are stilling living off the produce from last season’s harvest, Robert Oduor is counting his losses after the deadly Striga weed infested his one-hectare maize field. “Previously, I harvested up to 14 90-kilogramme bags of maize per half hectare. But due to the infestation of the weed, which I was not able to control, I harvested a total of two and a half bags of maize from my field,” said Oduor, who is from the Sega area in Western Province. But he hopes that next season’s harvest will be better. That is if he can get his hands on a new variety of maize, which was developed by scientists to survive against a Striga weed infestation.

Striga weed, also known as witches weed, is a plant with either bright pink or red flowers, depending on the species. However, it is a parasite and also infests sorghum, millet and sugarcane fields. Once a maize plantation is infested by the weed, experts say the loss ranges from 70 to 100 percent of the harvest. And for the past 10 years, research scientists from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Weizmann Institute and BASF-Chemical Company have been developing a high- yielding maize variety resistant to the herbicide used to kill the Striga weed.

“This maize variety is not resistant to the Striga weed,” explained Dr. Gospel Omaya, the Seed System manager at the African Agriculture Technology Foundation, which facilitates public-private partnerships. “The variety is resistant to one of the most effective herbicides, Imazapyr, which kills other plants, including the Striga weed.” The maize seeds are coated with the herbicide before being packaged and this coating makes it resistant to weeds. The Imazapyr-resistant variety has been named as “UaKayongo”, which is Swahili for “kill the Striga weed.”


Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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