Maseno University has produced seed capable of resisting the notorious Striga weed, that results in losses for farmers.
After a 16-year study, the institution has produced maize varieties named Maseno EH10, EH11 and EH14 and the finger millet variety 60D which mature faster and resist the effects of the weed, which have a natural adaptation to fight off infestation with the destructive Striga.
Striga is a common parasitic weed in sub-Saharan countries. It thrives on siphoning nutrients from host cereal plants such as maize, sorghum and rice, thereby weakening the crop.
Striga attaches itself on the plant, sucking all the nutrients and poisoning the plant.
To make matters worse, no amount of weeding can eradicate it.
According to lead scientist Matthew Dida the new varieties can cushion farmers from losses occasioned by the parasitic wees, assuring them of a harvest of five tonnes per hectare, if all other factors such as soil fertility and water are held constant.
In contrast, normal varieties yield about a tonne per hectare and Kenya suffers close to Sh6.7 billion in losses from the destructive Striga.
“The new maize and sorghum varieties will be ready for harvest in 120 days (four months) after planting and they work best in the western region which are often hit by Striga,” said Prof Dida, urging farmers to get the new seeds once they are in the market to boost yields.
The university plans to reach out to the Kenya Seed Company to help make the seed widely available to farmers from next year. It also plans to introduce maize seeds whose plants can withstand stormy weather that also causes destruction in maize plantations.
“We will introduce the Maseno Sugar maize seed variety whose plants will withstand heavy rains and strong winds that cause stress to plants,” said Prof Dida.