Boost as Kenya scientists develop weed-resistant sorghum variety



Kenya’s scientists have developed a sorghum variety that is resistant to striga weed, providing a major boost towards achieving food security in the arid and semi-arid areas where the crop is majorly grown.

The striga smart sorghum has been developed through modern technology of gene editing, which involves the use of naturally occurring molecular scissors to improve crops interaction with the environment for better traits such as weed resistance.

The invention has been done by Steven Runo, an Associate Professor, Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Biotechnology at Kenyatta University.

“Striga is a parasitic weed that attaches itself to roots of host crops such as maize, sorghum, millet, rice (mainly cereals) and it sucks out nutrients and kills the host crop. The striga weed is a major threat to food security in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Prof Runo.

This new variety of sorghum has been tested in Busia, Kisumu and HomaBay counties where the weed is common.

According to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), striga weed can cause up to 100 percent yield loss.

Prof Runo said science and technology have the potential to increase food productivity in Kenya in the wake of many challenges arising from the effects of climate change.

The weed attacks the roots of staple crops such as maize, sorghum, millet, cowpea and upland rice. It affects about 50 million hectares of African croplands, causing Sh1 trillion in crop loss annually.

“There is a lot of potential in agricultural technology and we need to harness it. African scientists must do this and must leverage partnerships with other countries to be able to use and harness technologies for crop improvement,” he said.

According to Kalro, increasing demographic pressure and demand for food has led to the intensification of land use, mono-cropping and consequently a decline in soil fertility. It is this depletion of soil fertility that has resulted to an increase in Striga incidences.

Scientists collected samples of sorghum varieties grown in Africa that are resistant to the striga weed and that is what they used to come up with this resistant variety.

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