Researchers have developed a maize seed that is resistant to the harmful striga weed, which has been a big problem to farmers.
Agriculture CS Willy Bett on Friday said the noxious weed has destroyed crops in more than 741,316 acres in Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma, Siaya, Migori, Kisumu, Homa Bay and Vihiga.
Homa Bay is the worst-hit county.
“Due to the infestation, farmers have left their land to lay fallow as they feel they are spending more than they are harvesting. Others have resorted to planting crops that are not affected by the striga weed, including beans, cassava and sweet potatoes,” Bett said.
Besides the striga weed, Kenya is grappling with the fall armyworm, which has spread to 25 counties.
“The maize lethal necrosis disease has also attacked many counties, with symptoms ranging from drying maize plants,” Bett said while launching sale of the resistant maize.
African Agricultural Technology Foundation executive director Denis Kyetere said the striga control seed, also known as Imazapyr Resistant Maize, decreases the level of striga on the farm through direct attacks on the striga plants and seeds.
He said striga control methods have not been widely adopted by farmers because of limited knowledge of the striga lifestyle, lack of land for crop rotation and because their benefits come about over the long term.
“Herbicide applications are also expensive and ineffective, since the crop is already damaged before striga emerges,” Kyetere added.
The striga control seed is being promoted under the trade name StrigAway by AATF. This is done with the support of the Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation programme for Sh332 million.
The technology has been developed by scientists from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, and Weizmann Institute for Science and BASF chemical company.
“Commercialisation of the IR maize seed is key so that farmers from all corners of the region can access it. So far, seven seed companies are producing this innovative seed,” commercialisation lead Brenna Mckay said.
“We call upon more to come on board to increase access to the smallholder farmer who is the main target.”