From: Maina Waruru, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published February 8, 2013 06:36 AM

Invasive Striga Weed Serious Problem in Sub-Saharan Africa

Rising soil temperatures are increasing the spread of a deadly, parasitic weed that significantly reduces crop yields in Sub-Saharan Africa, Striga, according to scientists.

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The noxious weed, also known as witch-weed, usually thrives in the warm and humid tropics but is now spreading to cooler and wetter highlands as a result of warmer soils driven by global warming and low soil fertility, which provides the right conditions for Striga to thrive.

Increasing soil temperatures are fuelling the spread of Striga from the tropics to highland areas
The deadly weed can reduce crops by up to 80 per cent, threatening livelihoods

Research organisations are trialling various strategies, such as intercropping, to combat its spread
This spread has threatened the livelihoods of around 100 million people, with more than four million hectares of maize crops infected. In general, Striga reduces maize and cowpea yields by up to 80 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Some farmers are now abandoning maize cultivation for cassava as the parasitic plant colonises areas at attitudes more than 1,500 metres above sea level, said Mel Oluoch, head of the Integrated Striga Management in Africa programme at the International Institute of Research in Tropical Agriculture (IITA), during a farmers' field day in Western Kenya last month (17 January) organised by ISMA.

"Striga currently remains the biggest threat to maize production, particularly in the East Africa region where corn is the staple for millions of inhabitants," said Oluoch, adding that the weed devastates plants by attaching itself at the root base, starving the host for nutrients.

Photo shows field infested with Striga in Mali. Credit: International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

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