Farmers in Kitale will benefit from a technology that will reduce the attack on maize from the stem borer pest.
Kitale is part of the bread basket area in Kenya but the stem borer has been a big problem resulting to about 25 per cent losses of the crop in Trans Nzoia
county according to Kenneth Kagai, the county’s agriculture deputy director.
“Much of the maize consumed in the country comes from this region hence the need to seek for a solution to address the pest problem.
Any technology that can address this issue will go a long way in ensuring that farmers get enough produce for themselves and the country,” he said.
Kagai added that the effects from the pest are normally low for those farmers that plant early, which is by the second week of March.
“If you plant after the second week of April, then the stem borer becomes a problem,” said Kagai adding that this year, about 106,000 hectares are under
maize farming and the county expects to harvest about five million bags.
67-year old Atanasi Aginga who has grown maize for over 30 years says the stem borer which is locally referred to as ‘tsingetse’, affects the crop two months
“After top dressing, the pest infests the maize stem and cob as the crop grows, and this reduces the yields. The pest first started destroying sorghum when many farmers were growing the crop and shifted to maize crops,” says the farmer from Kitale.
Aginga says for those farmers that cannot afford pesticides, they use traditional methods such as ash to control the pest.
“Agriculture experts had also advised us to use the push-pull method (where they plant desmodium to attract the stem borer from the maize crop to nappier grass) as another control measure.
However, the two methods have only reduced the stem borer infestation on maize temporarily,” he added.
To address the problem, scientists from the Water Efficient Maize for Africa project are carrying out an experiment using a genetically modified technology on how to tackle the pest in a confined field trial site in Kitale.
Sylvester Oikeh, the Wema project manager in Africa said this is the second experiment being done in Africa after South Africa and that it is safe to the environment and for human consumption.
“Farmers will not have to use chemicals to spray the pest as the maize variety being developed will control the pest hence safe for human consumption and the environment,” said Oikeh.
Dr Murenga Mwimali from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation said in Kenya, the stem borers causes about 4,000,000 metric tonnes worth of maize losses which translates to USD 80 million (Sh8 billion) losses annually.
He added that the aim of the experiment is to develop a technology that combines both drought tolerant and insect resistant in one package as a seed.
“We are targeting to offer a solution to the maize stalkborer (Buseola fusca), common in the highland maize growing areas of Kitale and Uasin Gishu, and the maize stemborer (Chilo Partellus) common in the lowland areas of Ukambani,” said Murenga.
He added that the experiments being undertaken in confined field trials in Kitale and Kiboko, will also seek to generate data on the insect damage which has been missing in Kenya.
“We want to find out if we can be able to control the African stem borers and the spotted or lowland stem borers not only in the laboratory and green house but also in the field.
We hope to get effective results in a bid to alleviate food insecurity in the country,” said Murenga who is the project’s coordinator in Kenya.