Maize farmers assault on danger weed


By Bernard Muthaka

Inadequate rainfall has for years been blamed for poor maize harvests.

But now experts are increasingly turning attention to a parasite they say is responsible for losses of close to Sh5.5 billion every year among farmers in Western and Nyanza provinces.

A combination of poor management technologies and myths around  Striga, a parasitic weed that denies nutrients to the plant, has prevented many small scale farmers from controlling the spread of the weed, some losing entire harvests in consecutive seasons.

“From the colonial times, we have been using hand weeding, pulling out Striga from our fields, but this method is very labour intensive and by the time of the next planting season the weed usually will have come back,” says Pastor Stephen Ochiel.

He is one of the farmers in Rachuonyo who are participating in evaluations of different Striga control technologies through a new partnership by agricultural research and development bodies that is promoting the technologies in Kenya and Nigeria.

The four-year Integrated Striga Management in Africa project that is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is co-ordinated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

Striga weed is the biggest headache for maize, sorghum and millet farmers after drought, said Dan Kiambi, executive director of Nairobi-based Africa Biodiversity Conservation and Innovations Centre.

It attaches itself to the roots of cereal plants, sapping the host of nutrients and water, stunting the plant, reducing yields, and killing the plant in severe conditions. 

Striga seeds are tiny and a single plant can produce up to ten thousands seeds. Often, the seeds are dispersed by rain water.

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