The grain sorghum research team at Kansas State University has been working to solve a serious food production problem in Africa – and the team now has a solution that could have a significant beneficial impact for many.
Striga, a parasitic weed, costs $6 billion in crop damage every year in Africa, said Kassim Al-Khatib, K-State Research and Extension weed physiologist. The weed has huge impacts on food production and hunger because of the crop losses it causes, he said. K-State is involved in an international effort to eradicate Striga from African fields, and the results look promising.
"The flowering weed invades fields of sorghum and certain other crops. Underground, Striga parts connect to sorghum roots and feed on them. This dramatically reduces crop yield and sometimes destroys entire fields. African farmers have tried crop rotations and other simple strategies to control Striga, but nothing has worked," said Al-Khatib.
Grain sorghum is the major food crop for human consumption in East and West Africa, he said: "There are tens of millions of acres of grain sorghum produced for food in those regions. The grain is used for bread and other food uses."
As part of their research, Al-Khatib and Mitch Tuinstra, former professor of agronomy at K-State and now at Purdue University began treating the seeds with an inexpensive, low-toxic herbicide.
"As the sorghum grows, the seed treatment will kill the Striga. All of these new technologies are being developed in Manhattan, and we are testing the seeds in Africa to select the right herbicide, rate, landrace, seed treatment, and other factors," explained Al-Khatib.
The treated seed currently is being tested in Mali and Niger with successful results, he added. "It has stirred up excitement because of its implications for reducing hunger in these areas. Testing will soon expand to other countries," he said.