Agriculture research center Kalro has developed a bio-control herbicide to combat the destructive striga weed that has become a threat to food security.
This makes Kenya the first country in the world to commercialise the weed bio-herbicide technology.
The herbicide, known as ‘kichawi kill’ will be used to kill the invasive weed that has been, for decades, blamed for poor maize and sorghum harvests in Western and Coastal regions.
Eliud Kireger, Kalro Director-General, described the biocontrol product as safe, simple and economical.
The new herbicide is applied during planting and improves farm productivity, profitability and food security: “Farmers will need only 2.5kg of the biocontrol product to treat one-acre farm of maize, sorghum or millet,” Kireger said.
The trials for the product started in 2008 and were conducted in Busia, Siaya, Vihiga and Bungoma counties.
The fresh development, after 12 years of research, means that Kenya will be able to lead the fight on one of the worst enemies of food production — striga weed. Researchers say weeds account for maize yield losses of up to 182,227 tonnes per year which translates to Sh5.3 billion annually.
Other countries in Africa where striga weed is a major problem to farmers are Zimbabwe, the Ivory Coast, and Gabon.
Striga is an invasive weed usually found in tropical and subtropical regions in Africa and South Asia.
The weed plant produces very tiny seeds, just about 0.2 millimeters in size, which are easily spread by wind.
As the plant grows in farms, it saps off the roots of crops such as maize, effectively depriving the crop of nutrients, water, and ultimately killing it.
Besides the seeds being too tiny, they can remain dormant in farms for decades, while being resistant to both heat and a wide range of herbicides.
The Organisation has already received an approval from the Kenya Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) to start commercial production of the weed bio-herbicide.
Its commercialisation is being undertaken by Tooth Pick Company — a social enterprise firm in Kakamega County with the guidance from an NGO partner Welthungerhilfe (WHH).
“After a long regulatory process, this year we hosted demonstration plots on nearly 1,000 farms and trained over 40 village inaugural producers who will set up their own micro-enterprises,” said Claire Baker, Director TCL and Toothpick Project (International).
Henry Nzioki, a plant pathologist at Kalro said the scientists used an innovative bio-control technique to isolate a fungal pathogen from the weed.
“For us, this is a milestone. Kenya being a pilot country, we hope to storm other countries with the technology,” said Mr Nzioka.
As Kenya enters the long rainy season, these producers are already taking orders of kichawi kill from farmers.
“We will work closely with the producers to reach as many farmers as possible and plan for expansion in future seasons,” he said.
A farmer who has used the herbicide noted, “the first demonstration I was able to harvest 40 per cent. On the second demonstration I harvested 65 per cent. Initially I used to manually uproot the weeds.”
The research was conducted in collaboration with Montana University of USA and other partners.