Improved technologies being promoted by the Integrated Striga Management for Africa (ISMA) project have shown promise that Striga—a parasitic weed that destroys cereal and legume fields—can be eradicated from Africa.
Infesting up to 4 million hectares of land under maize production in sub-Saharan Africa, Striga causes farmers yield losses of up to 80% representing about US$1.2 billion, and affects approximately 100 million people in the continent.
In the last three years, the ISMA project has deployed an integrated approach for managing Striga while improving soil fertility and reducing the Striga seed bank for sustainable increases in crop yields in some selected communities in Nigeria and Kenya. Specifically, these included cultural practices such as intercropping maize with legumes (soybean and groundnut); crop rotation of maize with soybean; a “push-pull” technology that involves intercropping cereals with Striga-suppressing Desmodium forage legume; using Striga-resistant maize and cowpea varieties; using maize varieties resistant to Imazapyr (IR)—a BASF herbicide (StrigAway®) which is coated on the maize seeds and which kills the Striga; and adopting Striga biocontrol technologies which uses a Striga host-specific fungal pathogen.
Dr David Chikoye, IITA Director for Southern Africa, said results from the project showed that the battle against Striga could be won.
‘We will eradicate Striga in Africa just as America did,” he said at the Annual Review and Planning Meeting of ISMA in Abuja held 21-23 May.
IITA Deputy Director General for Research, Dr Ylva Hillbur, in her opening remarks called for concerted efforts from partners to tackle the Striga challenge.
Over 70 stakeholders gathered in Abuja for the 3-day annual event which sought to evaluate the successes, challenges, and opportunities of the project, identify gaps, and plan how to implement the decisions to successfully scale out Striga management technologies to rural farmers in the next coming year.
Dr Mel Olouch, ISMA Project Manager, said “We have established partners and stakeholder capacity in Kenya and Nigeria and installed Striga seed processing facilities in Kenya; awareness is high. Already, registration of the herbicide has been achieved in both countries and we expect to release two IR maize varieties in Nigeria in 2014.’’
He said that some of the scaling up approaches that need to be adopted include the use of volunteer farmers to reduce costs and increase ownership, and use of complementary inputs and empowerment of stakeholders to give farmers the best technologies.
The Senior Program Officer for Agriculture Development of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr Yilma Kebede, in his address, looked at future plans for the project while expressing that the project is close to reaching farmers and addressing their concerns/problems due to Striga. He emphasized that there needs to be concerted efforts to profile the farmers reached such that the take-home message will be sustainable for them in the long run.
“Demonstrations need to be focused and there is greater need to engage a wide range of stakeholders in controlling Striga. The various institutions involved should synergize to promote the project and scale out to farmers because no one partner will be responsible for the success of the technologies in the end,’’ he said.
Project partners include CIMMYT, AATF, icipe, Bayero University, KNARDA, BSADP, seed and chemical companies, extension workers, Scientists and the private sector.