In Summary
  • The StrigAway maize technology comprises maize varieties, which are tolerant to a herbicide called Imazapyr and innovative seed coating techniques to apply low dose herbicide coating (20g for maize seeds enough to cultivate one hectare of farmland).

Striga, commonly known as witchweed, has been ravaging maize in many parts of the Rift Valley and Western Kenya, threatening the survival of millions who depend on the crop for food and livelihood.

African Agricultural Technology Foundation has been involved in generating drought and weed tolerant varieties. DENIS ODUNGA spoke to Dr Gospel Omanya, the senior manager in charge of projects management and deployment at AATF.

The planting season is here and the government is warning of yet another bout of food shortage in six months. What needs to be done to ensure Kenya breaks the vicious cycle of food insecurity?

Indeed, food security is a critical challenge to millions of Kenyans at the moment. The current situation, like similar situations in the past, is occasioned by a combination of factors, notably severe drought, pests, diseases and vicious weeds.

In such circumstances, the government is expected to move swiftly with relief food supply to the affected communities. However, this can only provide a temporary solution.

In my view, a long-term solution lies with investment in improved technologies such as drought-tolerant crops, irrigation, pest and weed management innovations.

The African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), in collaboration with partners from the public and private sectors, recently released 11 drought-tolerant maize hybrids to mitigate the challenge of recurrent drought in Kenya.

These hybrids are products from the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (Wema) partnership that is developing and commercialising the drought-tolerant maize hybrids in eastern and southern Africa.  

Further, AATF and its partners, BASF and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (Cimmyt), are working together to deploy a technology known as StrigAway to control the vicious Striga weed (popularly known as witchweed) that adversely affects maize production especially in western Kenya. In Kenya, the partnership is working with seed companies to commercialise the StrigAway maize varieties.

Maize yields are falling in Kenya’s grain basket. Is it time Kenyans took to other crops? If yes, which ones and why?

Maize is a staple food crop for Kenyans. With technologies such as drought tolerant hybrids and StrigAway varieties that can effectively mitigate pest and disease attack, coupled by irrigation, the maize production can be greatly enhanced.  

In addition, other crops can also be cultivated to complement the household food security requirements. These include sorghum, millets, and legumes like cowpeas and beans.

You mentioned droughtTEGO crops. What does this mean?

DroughtTEGO is brand name for the new drought-tolerant maize hybrids that have been developed by the Wema partnership. The name “TEGO” is Latin and it means “shield”. Thus DroughtTEGO hybrids “shield” the maize crop from drought by enabling efficient use of available water.

Does this mean the answer lies with technology? And is Kenya ready for GM technology?

In the current scenario where climate change is ravaging the country, I must say use of appropriate technology is critical to meeting our food security. This includes use of improved seeds, fertiliser, irrigated agriculture and application of best agronomic practices.

You’ve talked about Striga weed control in western Kenya. Tell us more.  

Striga is a vicious weed that perennially curtails cereal production, in particular maize, in Kenya’s lake basin region. It is popularly called “the witcweed” due to the bewitched stunted look of maize crop infested by Striga.  

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