Every planting season presents various challenges to smallholder farmers across the country, but for those in Nyakach subcounty, Kisumu county, the recurring of a crop-killing weed is a nightmare.
The striga weed, known in the local language as kayongo, is one of the leading causes of crop loss in Western Kenya. It hinders food security and hurts farmers’ livelihoods.
For years now, the community members have been using hand weeding or pulling method to control the striga weed. This very labour intensive and has failed since the damage is caused at the root of the plant.
Three years ago, Eunice Odhiambo, a farmer and a mother of four, almost gave up on farming in her one and a half acre following the infestation of the weeds and consistent poor yield.
“Sometimes I would be optimistic of a better harvest following good weather conditions but this did not happen. Instead, I could only get one or two ‘gorogoro’ (a tin measuring about 2kg) due to the striga weed choking my farm,” Odhiambo says.
She says things changed when she met Caleb Adede, a field officer with African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), who introduced farmers in the subcounty to the StrigaAway maize seed.
StrigaAway is an Imidazolinone-Resistance (IR) maize technology package, comprising of conventionally bred herbicide resistant maize varieties and Imazapyr seed treatment, which is a herbicide seed coating.
The Imazapyr herbicide is coated on a maize seed, which is resistant to the herbicide, which is put around 30 grams per acre.
“Over the years, my yield has increased from the initial gorogoros to various bags of maize not less than four sacks,” Odhiambo says.
She says she can now cater to her subsistence needs and also afford to meet her other needs, including paying schools for her children, one who is in university and the other in secondary school.
“I’m a proud farmer and since I do this as a business, I pocket a tidy sum of money from my farm because after harvesting I get orders to supply various bags to schools in the area,’’ he said.
Odhimabo said the new maize variety has reduced the striga weed in her farm.
She said she and other farmers have groups and are educating their counterparts who have not tried the new technology to adopt it so they can also be food-secure.
She says as the country grapples with unga and maize shortage, she is stress-free due to her proceeds.
Striga remains the biggest threat to food security in western Kenya, Adede says. But all is not lost following the introduction of maize varieties resistant to the lethal weed.
Adede said they have been working with farmers in the subcounty for three years, showing the different varieties and comparing their yield at harvesting time.
“We have been doing this over and over so the farmers can practically see the difference, and we later call for barazas to educate them to embrace the technology to be food-secure,” he said.
100% CROP LOSS
The field officer said striga is dangerous and can result in up to 100 per cent loss because the impact of the weed in the region is massive.
He said the weed can be in the soil, with the seeds remaining dormant for up to 20 years without farmers knowing or seeing (one striga plant produces 20-30 seeds).
Apart from using the IR technology, Adede says they recommend to farmers to always uproot before flowering to avoid seeds going back to the soil. This is done on the eighth week before the flowers appears.
Unfortunately, there is no economic use of weeds. It just destroys mostly the grass crops, including maize, sorghum, rice and sugarcane.
Within Nyakach subcounty, the officer said they have around 15-20 farmers every farming season, where they do the demonstrations in their farm.
He said in the entire Western Kenya, they work with around three to do the demonstrations.
Corporate communication manager Nancy Muchiri said that as AATF, they are participating in a public-private partnership to deploy the StigaAway IR maize technology to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to ensure long-term use and benefits to them.
Muchiri said they are encouraging farmers to incorporate soil fertility practices, such as use of legume rotation and inter-crops and fertiliser additions, to replenish soil nutrients and optimise crop yields.
AATF’s role in the project is to support StrigaAway IR maize technology delivery and stewardship of seed dissemination.
“We want to enable smallholders farmers in sub-Saharan Africa to have access to a seed-based striga management technology through the use of StrigaAway IR maize varieties,” Muchiri says.