Led by Prof Mathews Dida, lecturers from the university have developed Maseno EH10, EH11 and EH14 maize varieties, which emit a natural chemical component that suppresses growth of striga weed in a maize farm.
“I know that my colleagues have developed sterling seeds before and I must admit that it is on some of these initiatives that I have improved mine, but what makes these particular seeds stand out is their ability to eliminate striga weed in our shambas (farms),” Prof Dida said.
According to the researcher, the agricultural sector suffers close to Sh6.7 billion in losses as a result of striga weed infestation.
Prof Dida said that tackling the weed and the need to address the perennial food security was the overriding goal of his research that began more than 10 years ago.
“I was trying to solve some of these problems I see in farming. How can we keep importing food yet we have the some of the best climatic conditions to be able to achieve self-sufficiency in food production?” he posed.
When finally taken up together with other varieties already in supply, he said that the country would be able to feed the rest of the East African community bloc.
The researchers also developed Maseno 60D, a code name of the finger millet seed, which they said is not only fast maturing but also suitable for regions that experience low rainfall.
The initiative was partly funded by the National Council for Science and Technology that promotes research and innovation to the tune of Sh1.7 million.
Prof Dida said that in terms of output, a farmer should expect at least 12 tonnes of produce per acre compared to the current situation where some farmers harvest as low as a tonne or less from same size of farm.
He said that all requisite assessment by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (Kephis), which ascertains effectiveness of newly developed seeds, points to their success.
Agriculture minister Sally Kosgei will launch the new seeds soon to pave the way for commercial exploitation. They are also on display at the Kisumu agricultural show, which opened on Wednesday.
Prof Dida said that the new maize varieties mature between 20 and 50 days earlier than those already in the market. “They flower in 60 days and mature in 80 days .This represents a reduction from 125 to 80 days,” he observed.
Although the seeds may thrive in almost all parts of the country, the don said that during the research, they focused on lowlands and the Lake Victoria region and coastal parts of the country, which receive relatively scarce rainfall.
A seed variety with such traits will be the first of a kind in East Africa.
However, similar seeds have been developed for farmers in Nigeria and South Africa.
It took Prof Dida two years to develop and evaluate the millet seeds before Kephis took over to conduct independent trials.
The work on maize took a little longer since the researchers had to cross-pollinate different maize seeds to obtain the superior breeds out of the originals.
“Developing new seed variety is referred to as plant breeding and demands for a lot of patience if anything good is to come out of it. Like this has taken 10 years to piece together,” he said.
Source: Business Daily Newspaper, Author Mr. Justus Wanga