Scientists confront a 'witch'

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In Italian folklore, the term striga was widely associated with a witch, with a reputation as being very scary. 

The Italian striga, so the folk tale goes, could turn herself into a terrible bird of prey, with huge talons, a misshaped head and breasts filled with poisonous milk.  She preys on sleeping men and children, drinking the men’s blood and offering her poisonous milk to the children.

In the western regions of Kenya, a parasitic weed known as striga has for ages caused similar anguish to farmers, leading some to associate the havoc it wreaks — infested maize plants stunted growth — with a curse or a bewitching.

The belief is so intractable in the area that when Kennedy Okumu wanted to plant maize in his three quarter acre farm, his grandmother expressly warned him that the piece of land had been “cursed” by their ancestors, and he should expect no harvest.

“She advised me to build a house instead of wasting my money on maize”, says Okumu, a father of two from Kanyarwanda sub-location in Homa Bay District.

Okumu is one of the farmers field testing a maize seed that controls striga, a weed that causes between 20 per cent and 100 per cent grain yield loss in many fields in western Kenya.

The field tests began in 2005 bringing together farmers, community and non-governmental organisations, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute,  Ministry of Agriculture, seed companies, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT),  BASF and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).\

Full article on the Daily Nation website | pdf

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