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July 20, 2008

Striga weed attacks cereal crops in western Kenya, eastern Uganda

Many small-scale cereal farmers in Busia,Uganda may lose all their crops after the Striga weed attacked their gardens. Striga weed, which is a parasite on cereals such as maize, millet, rice and sorghum, has pink flowers.

It is very difficult to get rid of the weeds because their roots grow into the maize roots and sap out all the plants' nutrients. The weeds can lead to loss of the entire crop in the fields.

Food and Agriculture Organisation officials recently established that the most hit area is Lumino sub-county where all the maize and rice gardens have been attacked.

The head of the cereals programme at National Crop Resources Research Institute, Dr. Godfrey Asea, said they were training farmers on using desmodium, a new weed that is inter-cropped with maize to keep off stem borers, which are believed to be the lead cause of the striga.

Desmodium has a pungent smell which repels the borers away from the maize. Asea advised farmers to plant elephant grass near the maize rows so that when the desmodium plant emits its offensive smell, the maize borer is pushed away from the maize plant to the elephant grass.

"When the borers get to the elephant grass, they die because of lack of enough food. When they lay eggs in the grass, the eggs do not hatch," said Asea.

Desmodium also prevents striga from growing in between the maize plants in addition to adding fertility to the soil because it is a leguminous plant.

Asea advises farmers to trim the weed to reduce competition for light.

He said they were trying out a new variety of maize that is believed to be resistant to the weed. They started the trials in the most infested districts of Busia, Budaka, Tororo and Namutumba in Eastern Uganda.

New Vision

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A crop production crisis is looming large in parts of Western Kenya following rapid spread of the deadly striga weed.

A Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) report says the weed threatens crops in at least eight districts. The report further says high population growth in some of these districts has interfered with crop rotation, which in turn has promoted the spread of the weed.

In Sub- Saharan Africa, it infests approximately twenty to 40 million hectares of farmland cultivated by peasant farmers causing huge yield losses.

Some of the districts affected include: Kisii, Nyamira, Gucha, Kuria, Bomet, Trans Mara, Suba and Homa Bay.

“Though the South Nyanza districts are worst hit by the striga weeds for decades now, the weed is now spreading to areas previously not infested and increasing in severity,” the Kari report says in part.

Continuous growing of maize, sorghum and minimal effort to control striga has increased the weed’s seed population in the soil.

“This has led to reduced crop yield or total crop failure and is some striga infested areas farmers have abandoned cereal production altogether,” the report by centre director and Dr Florence Makini and M Makelo says.

In the affected districts, the reports points out contributing factors may be inherent in the low soil fertility and decrease in use of fallow due to increase in population growth.

In some cereal producing divisions, the report estimates losses ranging from to 70 per cent to total crop failure, depending on the severity of the infestation.

The witch weed infestation and subsequent cereal losses threaten to worsen due to the fact that some of the herbicides used or other control methods have not been effectively integrated.

Some of the herbicides that have been tested before in infested areas like oxyflourfen, pendimethalin and Atrazine have little effect once not integrated with other control methods.

In one pilot project in Kisii, for example, the use of nitrogenous fertilizer proved that nitrogen could stifle the witch weed while increasing maize yields.

The Standard

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