15 April 2013

Kenyan Farmers Battle Weed

Dar es Salaam — Thousands of farmers in western Kenya are successfully battling the invasion of a deadly parasitic weed called Striga, dubbed the 'violet vampire' because of its beautiful violet flowers.

The Integrated Striga Management in Africa (ISMA) Project has supported their efforts by introducing several options to eliminate the weed from their fields.

A recent study from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) availed to East African Business Week in Dar es Salaam said as a consequence, farmers are enjoying higher yields of their number one staple, maize.

According to the IITA's study, Striga attacks and greatly reduces the production of staple foods and commercial crops such as maize, sorghum, millet, rice, sugarcane, and cowpea.

'The weed attaches itself to the roots of plants and extracts its water and nutrients adversely affecting its growth. It can cause farmers up to 100% crop loss,' according to the IITA report.The report adds that, a single flower of the weed can produce up to 50,000 seeds that can lay dormant in the soil for up to 20 years.

Studies have shown that this parasitic weed is the number one maize production constraint in Western Kenya with most farmers' fields being infested.

The four-year ISMA project is demonstrating the effectiveness of using a combination of existing and new technologies developed by various national and international research organizations and private companies, to sustainably control the beautiful but lethal Striga weed. The technologies range from simple cultural practices such as intercropping maize with legumes, such as groundnuts, rotating maize with soybean (soybean stimulates the Striga to germinate but it later dies in the absence of a maize host to latch onto) to deploying a 'push-pull' technology that involves intercropping cereals with specific Striga-suppressing desmodium forage legume.

Other technologies include using Striga-resistant maize varieties and maize seeds coated with and resistant to Imazapyr-an BASF herbicide (StrigAway) developed by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) which kills the Striga seed as it germinates and before it can cause any damage.

The project is also testing the effectiveness of bio-control technologies which use a naturally occurring host-specific fungal pathogen that kills the Striga at all stages without affecting other crops. "Striga is very difficult to control and all the various methods have their challenges. Therefore the key to sustainably manage this weed is to combine various technologies," says Dr Fred Kanampiu, a CIMMYT agronomist leading the project activities in Kenya.

ISMA is providing farmers with options and they can choose the combination that works best for them.

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