Friday, November 1, 2013

IITA unveils maize varieties to tackle Striga at farmers’ field day

Farmers at the demonstration plots
A farmers’ field day organised by the Maize Improvement Program of IITA that is being coordinated by Dr. Abebe Menkir (IITA Maize Breeder), at Mokwa research station in Nigeria showcased maize hybrids and varieties that are resistant to Striga hermonthica.
The farmers’ field day which was held on October 12, provided farmers the opportunity to ask researchers questions and also to get answers on how to tackle the weed which has become a menace.

Farmers and other stakeholders attending the field day visited demonstration plots of different Striga-resistant maize hybrids and open pollinated varieties with different maturity rates.
The demonstration plots also included hybrids and varieties that are both susceptible/ not susceptible to Striga, reflecting good comparisons. The demonstration was arranged in two blocks, infested and not infested, representing two distinct (stress and optimum) environments. Plots in the infested block were artificially inoculated with Striga seeds at the time of planting maize to ensure that the maize grew in a Striga endemic environment.

Results from the plots reinforced farmers’ trust in IITA’s research—a critical component that is necessary for technology adoption.
Drs Silvestro Meseka (IITA Maize Breeder) and Abuelgasim Elzein (IITA Striga Biocontrol Specialist) spoke on the problems caused by Striga on maize and its implication to maize yield in farmers’ fields.

They pointed out that Striga and low levels of soil nitrogen were among the major problems to maize production. To mitigate the effect of Striga, the researchers urged farmers to use improved planting materials and to also adopt best practices in maize cultivation.
The field day drew more than 57 farmers, including policy makers, opinion and traditional leaders women, and youths.

Participants at the field day.
Known by some as the “violet vampire” because of its bright purple color, Striga attaches itself to the roots of plants like maize and cowpea and sucks out nutrients, reducing yields and destroying entire harvests.

The weed primarily affects smallholder farmers who can’t afford costly herbicides for fighting the parasitic plant. The most widespread Striga species is estimated to have infested up to 4 million hectares of land under maize production in sub-Saharan Africa, causing yield losses of up to 80 percent. According to researchers at IITA, this represents up to $1.2 billion in losses for farmers and affects approximately 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers commended the field day, pointing out that they had learned new things, and requested IITA to organize more field days that will serve as a learning platform for them and their children. They said the availability of improved maize is a major constraint and requested IITA to help them by putting more efforts in making the seeds of Striga-resistant varieties available and accessible through either community-seed production system or professional seed companies.

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