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December 30, 2010

Striga weed needs more spirited efforts against it

by C. Bukenya

In 2008, a looming crisis was reported in Western Kenya and parts of eastern Uganda. This crisis was about the prevalence of striga weed, which was increasingly threatening the production of cereals, particularly maize. Since then, striga has continued to spread to new areas with devastating effects on crop yields and serious consequences for household food and income security.

Reports show that striga is infesting between 20 million to 40 million hectares of farm land in sub-Saharan Africa. It leads to drastic decline in the yield of crops like maize, millet, sorghum and rice. Believed to be a parasitic plant, striga competes for water and nutrients from the roots of the crop thereby reducing its growth. For example, the weed reduces the yield of maize by more than a half and leads to complete crop failure in severe cases.

In Uganda, striga infestation has been reported in the eastern districts of Busia, Budaka, Tororo, Namutamba and Iganga.

Because it has very small seeds and attractive flowers, striga can easily be spread by farm tools and equipment, wind, water plus animals and human beings.

There is ongoing research aimed at addressing the striga problem, both in Uganda and elsewhere. The research has focused on augmenting the conventional agronomic field management practices, such as crop rotation with the application of nitrogen fertilisers and herbicides in addition to the use of crop varieties that are resistant to the weed.

Unfortunately, these efforts have not yet yielded effective and practical solutions for controlling striga. As a recent visit to Bulamagi sub-county in Iganga district revealed, both traditional methods of weed management and individual farmer innovation do not seem to offer much success.

The striga weed problem has also not received much attention from government agencies like NAADS and the district production departments. I believe that the striga weed problem calls for urgent strategic intervention and concerted efforts involving sensitisation and mobilisation of communities in the same way the water hyacinth problem was addressed.

The writer is a lecturer at Makerere University

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