Weed resistant maize variety developed

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By Dennis Onyango

Siaya, Kenya: She smiles confidently as she guides her visitors on a tour of her one acre-piece of land.
Unlike many farms in West Ugenya Location, Siaya County, Jane Akinyi’s maize crop is healthy despite the havoc wrecked by the infamous striga weed.

Farmers in most parts of Western Kenya know the weed so well that they have developed vernacular names for it. It is known as Kayiongo in Dholuo, Oluyongo in Luhya and Emoto in Ateso.
Her farm clearly stands out above the rest, as the maize crops are healthy and full of promise. Every morning she looks forward to tending her farm, something she never used to due to the infamous weed.
For the last two decades, the beautiful brightly coloured weed has remained an ugly sight to her as it adversely affects her maize production.

The mother of seven recalls how her effort to practice small-scale farming had remained unrewarding and a huge nightmare.
“All harvest seasons have remained a disappointment to me. I always reap less than half a bag from an acre that should produce more than five bags,” she said.

She said the situation had impoverished her as she struggled to feed and educate her children.
The intensity of the menace in the farms neighbouring Akinyi’s is conspicuously tremendous.
The maize crops are stunted and discoloured. Some have folded leaves and are wilting even though there is adequate rainfall in the area.

The weed spreads fast to other farms due to its small seeds, which are transferred by rainwater, wind, animals and people. The seeds can remain dormant in the soil for 15 to 20 years.

Most farmers in the area are helpless, not sure of this season’s harvest and have almost resigned to fate due to the weed.

Studies by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) show 76 per cent of farmland in west Kenya-about 210,000 hectares-is infested with striga weed.

Akinyi’s farm is among others the AATF, and other partners under a project dubbed’ Striga way technology’, set up to demonstrate the efficiency of a striga resistant maize variety last year.

Through the project, she reaped 50 tonnes of maize last season as she looks forward to doubling her harvest this year.

“I am very happy because I have seen the benefits of this initiative. I can’t imagine this is my farm that used to perform poorly,” she said cheerfully.

Gospel Omanya, Seed Systems Manager at AATF, explains that the technology involves the use of Imazapyr-resistant (IR) herbicide- coated maize seed, which kills the weed before it damages the crop.

He said the IR-maize technology leads to 38-82 per cent yields higher than those currently obtained from traditional maize varieties.

The chemical diffuses and kills striga seed in the soil. Any weed that may have survived the soil attack is killed when it attaches itself to the maize and sucks the herbicide from the maize roots, he explained.

“The herbicide-resistant maize is coated with low doses of the herbicide. As the maize germinates, it absorbs some of the herbicide used in coating it,” Dr Omanya said.

“76 per cent of farm land in western Kenya which is about 210,000 hectares is infested with striga. Farmers often obtain poor harvests which are not adequate to feed their families,” he added.

He warned farmers to watch out, saying the harmful weed spreads rapidly and is encroaching into other farms.

Click here to view article on the Standard newspaper, Kenya

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