Breaking the poverty loop with IR maize

Until 2007, Grace Lugongo, a young mother of four from Butula district in western Kenya had never known the meaning of harvesting a full sack of maize from her 1.25 acre piece of land thanks to the Striga weed popularly known as oluyongo in her local language. The weed had decimated maize farms to the extent that farmers in the area associated it with witchcraft. Grace would dutifully go to her 1.25 acre piece of land to plant maize every season knowing very well that her efforts would yield as low as two gorogoros (a tin that measures about two kilogrammes that is usually used at market places) of maize.

lugongoStriga weed uprooted and thrown on the road  this is one of the traditional ways of Striga control still being practiced

In an effort to try and deal with the oluyongo, Grace, like other farmers in the area, used to uproot the weed and discard it by the roadside or sometimes burn or bury it. She also struggled to control the weed through use of animal manure, but her cattle could not produce enough to cover her piece of land.

Grace heard of Imazapyr Resistant (IR) maize seed for the first time in 2007 from Appropriate Rural Development Agriculture Program ARDAP, a local NGO dealing with agricultural development in her area. ARDAP informed her that the new maize seedcontrols Striga and increases yields. Grace decided to try the maize seed which is also popularly known as Ua Kayongo (kill Striga) and she has never looked back. Over the years her yield has increased from the previous two gorogoros to 10 bags from the same piece of land and another she leases from her neighbours to plant IR maize. Today Grace can easily count the number of Striga weeds on her farm and she is urging her neighbors, who are still undecided to use the technology. From the harvest she is able to cater for her subsistence needs and also afford some surplus to sell to cater for her other needs such as school fees for her children. The only challenge is the occasional untimely seed availability which leads to late planting resulting in low yields.

lugongo
Grace in her IR maize farm

Grace is a member of a farmer group called Community Economic Empowerment Agricultural Programme (CEEAP) whose main agenda is to eradicate the Striga weed from the area. The group is made up of 20 members, 16 of them women who also engage in poultry farming and self-help activities. The group plans to open an agro-dealer shop which will stock and distribute IR maize in the area.

– Joseph Ndwiga, AATF

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