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New maize brings hope to Kenya’s drylands

This harvest, many farmers in lower eastern Kenya were left staring in dismay at their failed maize crops. Once again, droughts have left people in the area desperate; they must purchase maize themselves or rely on famine relief food operations.

However, there are a few farmers expecting bumper maize harvests; not via miracles or witchcraft, but thanks to a new maize variety which is both drought tolerant and resistant to stalk borers, two of the biggest production constraints in the region.

The variety, referred to as CKIR04003 (CIMMYT/Kenya Insect Resistant), represents joint breeding efforts between Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and CIMMYT, under the Developing Maize Resistant to Stem Borer and Storage Insect Pests for Eastern and Southern Africa—IRMA III Conventional Project (a predecessor to the Insect Resistant Maize for Africa project). Released in 2006, CKIR04003 has the added advantage of being an open pollinated, early maturing and high yielding variety—31 to 45 bags per hectare, according to Stephen Mugo, CIMMYT maize Breeder.

One of the farmers benefiting from the new variety is Paul Ndambuki, who chose CKIR04003 because he “needed a variety that could withstand droughts as well as be resistant to stem borers.” “From the information provided by KARI, I felt CKIR04003 was the variety I needed. I did not need further prodding to try it out,” he said.

It was a decision that has paid off, despite less than perfect preparation. “I got the seed towards end of March. Because I was in a rush to plant before the onset of rains, I didn’t plant with fertilizer. I only added compound fertilizer after germination. I had hoped to top dress with CAN fertilizer. But this did not materialize as it only rained for two weeks in the entire growing season. I was a worried man,” states Ndambuki. “But my worries gradually turned into amazement. In stern contrast to my neighbours’ farms, under local varieties or other hybrids, my maize was so green and robust. It looked like one under irrigation.”

After six weeks, the maize remained free from stem borers. These normally cause huge losses in the region, and also make the attacked maize susceptible to aflatoxin infestation. Ndambuki is now expecting 35 bags of maize from his 0.8 ha of CKIR04003, compared with the 12 bags he achieved from 1 ha last season.

Ndambuki and KARI then hosted a farmers’ field day at his farm, to demonstrate the suitability of the variety to the environment. Impressed by Ndambuki’s enthusiasm, KARI has named the variety Pamuka1, in honor of Paul, his wife Jane Mumbua, and the Kamba community.