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    Fall Armyworm

    By George Munene

    The Fall Armyworm (FAW) is amongst the most devastating pests to Africa’s food systems. In response to this, agriculture nonprofit Land O’Lakes 37 and Villa Crop Protection have prepared freely accessible training modules outlining the appropriate responses smallholder farmers should take to combat this pest. 

    Research amongst Zimbabwean farm-holders showed that those who failed to implement these control strategies had a 50% lower per capita household income than their counterparts that implemented them. 

    According to data from the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), in the absence of any control methods, the Fall Armyworm (FAW), causes maize yield losses of 21–53 per cent in just of 12 of Africa’s maize producing countries annually. This amounts to 8.3 to 20.6 million tonnes; Sh267-Sh666 billion in potential losses.

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    Smallholder maize growing households blighted by the pests are at a 12 per cent higher risk of experiencing hunger.

    The learning modules are meant to equip extension service providers who then disseminate the acquired knowledge and skill on crop protection to smallholder farmers. The information is however open-source; freely accessible to anyone.

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    Amongst the key areas the seven module course covers include: Fall Armyworm identification; Chemical and non-chemical controls of FAW, as well as responsible chemical use when combatting FAW.

    The materials for each module is freely available for use and download upon registration here:

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    Bunj cattle possible trypanosome infection

    By George Munene

    Livestock researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Nairobi are using gene editing to identify genes that could help curb the spread of the as yet vaccine-less African animal trypanosomiasis, a pest that spreads sleeping sickness in animals and humans. The scientists are also looking at introducing desirable traits such as heat tolerance and disease resistance into African cattle and chickens.

    “Eradicating African animal trypanosomiasis is extremely important as we estimate that Africa loses 1 billion dollars annually due to human and livestock diseases,” explains Prof. Steve Kemp, program leader in livestock genetics at ILRI.

    Trypanosomiasis leads to farmer losses by causing anemia and lower reproduction rates in animals. If untreated, the disease can be fatal.

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    Through the Kenya National Biosafety Authority (NBA), ILRI has had its application to use gene editing to confer resistance to African trypanosomiasis in an indigenous goat approved after conducting necessary risk assessment measures.

    With most of Africa’s livestock keepers having small scattered herds across arid and semi-arid areas where artificial insemination services are limited, it makes reaching them even if the research is successful will be difficult 

    To combat this, ILRI is employing genome editing to research technologies that will help disburse improved genetics, such as using surrogate sires to support genetic improvement for smallholder livestock keepers.

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    For poultry farmers, scientists are using other advanced biotechnology applications to help smallholders in Kenya and Tanzania. This is through the rolling out of an improved transfer of genetics that focuses on indigenous varieties of chickens, ducks, geese, and pigeons that are highly adaptive to low diets and tolerant of diseases.

    “It would be a tragedy if they were lost. Therefore, as we improve the smallholder production system, we back up the existing diversity. This is done through the biobanking technique that cultures chicken primordial germ cells, ’Kemp explained.


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    By George Munene

    Kenya has launched the first commercialised biological herbicide, Kichawi Kill, that decimates the deadly parasitic Striga weed and improves maize yields by 50 per cent.  

    The herbicide was developed by Toothpick Company Limited, a social enterprise based in Kakamega in conjunction with KALRO Katumani. Proof of concept tests ran for 12 years involving 500 farmers in Maseno, Kenya resulted in 50 per cent increased maize output in the long rains season and 40 per cent in the short rain season.

    Per the International maize and wheat improvement center Strigahermonthica, colloquially known as Kanyongo or Witchweed, affects over 340,000 hectares of Kenya’s farmland and causes losses of over one billion shillings annually in sub-Saharan Africa.

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    According to Dorcas Kemboi, Toothpick’s Agribusiness Supervisor, Kichawi Kill (FOXY 14), will be produced under the company’s supervision and availed to farmers by registered producers at the village level in the Striga weed-infested region of Western Kenya. The company is based in and has producing hubs in the counties of Bungoma, Kakamega, Siaya and Vihiga. These producers may include registered Community-based organizations, Women Groups, Youth Groups, Faith-based Organizations, or Individual agripreneurs.  

    “For an eighth acre of maize, a farmer will need to apply 5 kilograms of the bioherbicide which costs Sh600. Besides it being organic, this makes it cheaper than other synthetic methods of striga control,” Dorcas explains.  

    Toothpick Limited will train the organic pesticide’s producers, farmers and extension agents on the proper methods of application for Kichawi Kill for best results. 

    Kichawi kill maize treatment results in increased maize biomass by allowing maize cobs to be fully filled as opposed to tiny cobs harvested in Striga affected maize and in extreme cases 100 per cent yield losses. 

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    Kichawi Kill suppresses Striga’s seed bank in the soil by eliminating its seeds as soon as they germinate. Those that escape produce fewer flowers and seed capsules reducing the weed's capacity for subsequent spread.

    Striga weed remains a major problem that is difficult to control for most farmers because of its survival strategy; each Striga plant produces up to 100,000 thousand seeds that can remain dormant in the soil for 20 years waiting for suitable hosts. These include maize, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, upland rice among other susceptible crops.


    Toothpick Company Limited: +254 793 600701

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