Farmers in Sironi village, Marmanet Division in Laikipia County are a worried lot following an invasion of a new weed on their maize and wheat farms, occasioning them huge losses.
The weed, of the Striga hermonthika family, characterized by purple flowers has dominated most farms, with the farmers attributing it to poor farm practices and lack of proper herbicides to rid it off their farms.
According to the farmers, who had no standard name for the weed, but referred to it as Gichini, translated as ‘pricky’, failure to tame the weed at a young stage resulted in low yield, since the weeds was dominant and attached itself to the cereal crops’ roots.
“If the tractor plates are not washed well after the last plough, then the next farm is bound to get the weed. It is hard to control it once a farmer plants his maize or wheat. The weed takes up most of the nutrients leading to handful harvest,” explained John Kariuki.
The dry season was not a hindrance to their growth, either, as most farms we came across had the dazzling purple flowered plants, despite the dry spell.
The invasive weed has been proved to be a huge problem to the farmers, who have incurred more losses compared to their earlier harvests.
“It outgrows the crops in the farms as it grows twice as fast as the planted crops. We are now reaping half what we reaped four years ago as well being forced to buy stronger herbicides to kill the weeds and their roots, which in turn damages crops at severe conditions,” regretted Gabriel Kipkemboi.
The farmers called on the County Government to send extension officers to advise them on what affordable herbicides were available to clear the weed, noting that an urgent solution was needed.
Nyandarua’s Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) Coordinator, John Wachira, raised the concern that climatic changes might be a factor influencing the survival of the weed in the region.
“There is no specific answer to the question on the origin of the weed since we cannot tell whether it was manmade with the intention of making money out of the desperate farmers by coming up with herbicides. The farm implements are major carriers of the weed and facilitates its transportation from one farm to the next,” he said.
Wachira noted that the plant had unique protein which caused high transpiration leading up to 100 percent crop loss.
“The weed produces up to 50,000 seeds and can remain dormant in the soil for over 10 years and resurface once the maize and wheat is planted. The affected crops hardly grow more than one foot tall,” he added.
Pulling out every weed, he suggested, can be a total way of mitigation though it would be hard to do so in a large plantation.
by Njoki Ndung’u/Wanjiku Muranja