18 October 2012

Nigeria: Freedom At Last for Farmers

Kano — At last farmers are free from the deadly vampire weed, which has always been a nightmare for farmers.

Farmers around the tropical region of West Africa have been tormented by the vampire weed known as Striga and popularly referred to as the witches weed. The weed has been every farmer's nightmare as it always put a frown on their faces. It is considered to be one of the biggest constraints to agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa.

Also known as the violet vampire because of the beautiful violet flowers it produces, the Striga weed mostly affects cereals such as maize and legumes such as cowpea grown in the region. Farmers regularly lose 40 to 100 percent of their crops, with total losses amounting to about billion of Naira every year , and that affect the livelihoods of many farmers in the region.

Farmers had adopted many strategies in fighting the weed but to no avail, as the witches weed keeps coming back year after year, because the weed behaves differently from other known weeds. Like a vampire, the pest sucks and drains its host of water and vital nutrients, to the point that the infested plant withers and dies. What makes Striga much more deadly is that it does most of its damage underground, even before emerging and being visible to farmers above the soil surface.

By the time the weed and its tell-tale violet flowers appear, it's already too late because there is not much that farmers can do to save their crop.

Striga produces hundreds of thousands of seeds per plant, leading to massive build-up in the soil that can remain viable for many years. To control this parasitic weed, farmers commonly use cultural methods and post-emergence herbicides, which are largely ineffective in protecting the crop as most of the damage has already been done below underground. Although , this may provide some relief against Striga, the herbicides are nonselective, and are too costly and unavailable for most farmers to use in the long run.

For years the Sub-Saharan farmers were left to their own fate, battling with the weed to save their crops from it , but to no avail.

Malam Ali Rurum a 51 year old farmer in Rurum Bebeji local government of Kano state stated that the parasitic plant has been hampering productivity for quite a long time without knowing exactly what to do.

According to him some of the farmers were forced to abandon their farm lands and borrow lands that are free from Striga to farm.

"For years , we have been battling with the striga weed, and for all these years it has been our nightmare. It is indeed very sad to see a Striga weed in your farm, because what it means is there is nothing for you that year. No matter how hard a farmer tries when the weed affects your farm it means you are doomed, therefore it became very necessary for a farmer to save his crop from being consumed by the witches weed. A farm yield that can produces tons of grains will end up producing few bags of grain if the weed attacked the farm," Rurum narrated.

Similarly, another farmer Abdu Usman of Tudunwadan Dankadai said every year he had to make extra budgets on fighting Striga, he added that non-availability of measures that would tackle the menace of the weed has been a constant source of worry to him and other farmers around the area. He added that with striga in the farm lands each year's harvest is bund to reduce significantly. "We are thinking of how to tackle this vampire before it succeeds in pushing us out of our farms.

I produce over 300 bags of maize every year ,and I know many that produce more than I produce, but the issue of this stubborn weed has been threatening our existence as farmers. Its unique way of attack is what is usually crippling us as farmers, it will not show its self to you until it has done enough damage to your crop. We have been praying for God's intervention into our plight, that has been our prayers for years," sadi Usman.

God answered the farmers prayers in 2011 when a private public partnership coordinated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), launched a collaborative effort known as the Integrated Striga Management in Africa (ISMA) project, to develop a package of Striga control options for smallholder farmers in Kenya and Nigeria.

The project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is being implemented in partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), among others. The four-year project focuses on improving access to Striga control solutions that include using Striga-resistant maize and cowpea varieties, deploying a "push-pull' technology that involves intercropping cereals with specific Striga-suppressing forage legumes, using maize varieties resistant to Striga and which kills the Striga seed as it germinates and before it can cause any damage, encouraging maize-legume intercropping and crop rotation; and adopting Striga biocontrol technologies. A significant component of the ISMA project is the identification of best-bet combinations of the available Striga control options for specific socio-ecological targeting.

"The suite of integrated Striga control interventions being promoted by ISMA will generate an estimated US$8.6 million worth of maize and cowpea grain annually in project sites in Kenya and Nigeria," says Mel Oluoch, ISMA project manager. "We are also optimistic that the interventions will lead to 50 percent more yields in maize and more than double the cowpea harvest in Striga-infested areas. About 250,000 farmers will directly benefit from the project," he added.

In Nigeria, the project is being implemented in Kano and Bauchi States in partnership with Kano State Agriculture and Rural Development Authority (KNARDA), Bauchi State Agriculture Development Programme (BASDP), Bayero University, Kano, The Institute of Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Maina Seed Company, Jirku Seed Producers and many other private sector and local government collaborators.

One year on, the initial outputs of the ISMA project have been encouraging. The project worked with 100 communities in Striga hotspots in Kano and Bauchi States and established 500 on-farm demonstrations of improved cowpea, maize, and soybean varieties along with Striga management technologies.

The project has trained some 3,500 farmers on group dynamics, participatory approaches, modern crop management, and Striga control practices in Northern Nigeria. In addition, the project has also disseminated Striga management technologies to about 38,000 Nigerian farmers through farmer-to-farmer knowledge transfer, on-farm demonstrations, field days, and radio.

In an event to showcase technologies for controlling Striga, including maize-soybean rotation, Striga resistant maize, and application of fertilizer at Tudunwada local government of Kano State a Biological Control Specialist with IITA Dr. Abuelgasim Elzein, stated that among the technologies adopted in controlling Striga weed there is a biocontrol technology, a novel technology that uses a soil borne fungal pathogen that is host specific to Striga to kill the Striga weed as it emerges.

Farmers have shown their gratitude and appreciation to all stakeholders in the formulations of these techniques that will ensure a total eradication of the violet vampire weed from their farm lands.

For years, they have been battling with the problem, and at last they can smile and say good riddance to the bad striga weed.

Copyright © 2012 Daily Trust. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.