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Farmers urge government intervention amid Striga weed threat

Farmers in Busia are calling upon the government to urgently intervene and find a solution following the invasion of maize and sorghum farms by a deadly striga weed, which threatens their dream of making Busia food secure.

An exclusive visit by KNA to the affected farms, mainly in Teso North and parts of Teso South, Amagoro, has established that the weed has spread in gardens occupied mainly by maize and sorghum.

The disaster has left most farmers appealing to both the county and national governments to incorporate research institutions and scientists to find a lasting solution to the problem.

By dwarfing the crops, the weed has caused most farms to look flowery at the expense of maize and sorghum, making it difficult for the crops to mature and yield.

With the short rain season already in place, Christopher Emukule, a maize and sorghum farmer at Moding area, is a sad farmer as he narrates to KNA how the weed has forced maize on his farm to dwarf, with others drying from the top.

Commonly known as “Luyongo” in Kikhayo, a subtribe in Luhya, the deadly weed spreads fast and if its multiplication is not checked, it could spread across a farm in less than three planting seasons.

“It’s saddening that most farms around here are badly hit by this weed. Crops look small with many shinny flowers from the weed seen from far, a clear evidence of no hope for farmers,” said Emukule.

Striga weed, which survives by syphoning water and nutrients from crops for its own growth, causes stunted growth in maize by attaching its roots to the host crop and extracting essential nutrients and moisture for its growth.

It spreads by shedding seeds, which germinate in subsequent planting seasons, making it hard to control. Animals’ movement on the farm also helps its spread.

With the cost of spraying being expensive for most farmers, they resort to traditional method of uprooting the striga weed, though the method does not seem to be working.

“If the government doesn’t come up with urgent intervention, there will be poor harvest next season,” added Emukule.

Vitalis Etyang, a farmer at Amagoro, has urged other maize farmers in the county to practise intercropping and mix farming, which is a traditional method to minimise weeds on the farm.

Legumes are the best crops for intercropping as they help fix nitrogen and minimize chances of striga weed’s existence on the farm.

Busia Governor Paul Otuoma says he has a plan ensure every home has granary for storage of grains, as the county has potential to address poverty through producing enough food.

“A hungry population is an unproductive population. We are faced with serious shortage of food to feed our people,” Otuoma said.

According to Magdalene Adikinyi, an agriculture extension expert, despite its striking purple flowers and potential medicinal uses, the parasitic, nutrient-sucking striga weed, or witchweed, is no innocent pest.

“Striga is a lasting and very damaging weed for the major cereal crops in sub-Saharan Africa. It can cause up to 100 percent crop losses across millions of hectares of farmland and an annual loss of several billion dollars,” said Adikinyi.

Once the field is infected with striga, farmers cannot get rid of this pest easily. Like black dust, these tiny seeds, produced in large quantities (one spikelet can produce over 50,000 seeds), spread rapidly within the farming community.

The weed has a lifespan of up to 20 years on the farm.

By Absalom Namwalo

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