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Promoting Striga control technologies in western Kenya

The Striga Control Project of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) is supporting widespread demonstrations in western Kenya of a promising method to control Striga, a highly invasive parasitic weed that infests 200,000 hectares of Kenya’s farmland and causes crop losses worth an estimated US$ 50 million each year. Targeting more than 40,000 households in that region in 2008, the initiative includes training farmers in good crop management practices, promoting use of grain legumes to suppress Striga, and distribution of small sample packs for demonstration purposes. Enough to sow 100 m2, the packs contain seed of StrigAway® maize (Ua Kayongo), fertilizer, and user instructions in English and Kiswahili.

Ua Kayongo—“kill Striga” in the local vernacular—was developed jointly by the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), BASF The Chemical Company, and CIMMYT, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and BASF. Researchers used a natural mutation and conventional breeding to create the maize variety. It resists imazapyr, an active ingredient in imidazolinone group of herbicides, so seed comes coated with a low dose of herbicide. The chemical kills Striga sprouts as they seek to attach to maize seedlings. The maize crop grows healthy and, over several years of using the practice, fields are rid of residual Striga seed.

The demonstrations are being coordinated by the Forum for Organic Resource Management (FORMAT), the lead NGO in the AATF Striga Control Project in western Kenya, in collaboration with the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, local NGOs, farmer associations, community-based organizations and Maseno University. FORMAT is also introducing a new system by which farmers may access Ua Kayongo seed and fertilizer on credit. “The credit system will confirm CIMMYT’s previous findings on farmers’ willingness to invest in this technology to manage Striga,” says CIMMYT maize agronomist Fred Kanampiu, who has contributed significantly to the work on Striga.