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Cycle 8 (2019 Deadline)

Deploying Striga Smart Sorghum: the last mile

PI: Steven Runo (, Kenyatta University
U.S. Partner: Emily Bellis, Arkansas State University
Project dates:  January 2020 - March 2022

Project Overview:

8-66 Field Work
Dr. Runo conducts field work with students (photo courtesy of Dr. Runo).
Crop losses caused by parasitic plants of the genus Striga pose a great danger to the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers in Africa. The parasite attaches to host crops and siphons nutrients, leading to severe growth retardation and death of infected plants. One efficient and cost-effective way to control Striga infestations would be to develop crops that are resistant to Striga. On this account, extensive searches have led to the identification of cultivars and wild relatives of crops that are resistant to Striga parasitism, and subsequently resistant varieties have been introduced in some breeding programs in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the resistance often is weak and tends to break down. The overarching aim of this project is to develop an innovation platform for deployment of sorghum varieties with durable resistance to Striga. First, the PI and his team will work with local farmers and extension officers to select, from a set of Striga resistant varieties already tested under laboratory and field conditions, sorghum varieties with preferable traits. In this participatory variety selection process, farmers will be able to grow sorghum varieties in their farms before making their selection. As a result, the researchers will be able to identify farmer preferred, locally adapted sorghum varieties with improved potential to maintain resistance in farmers’ fields. Second, the PEER-supported team will leverage Striga genetic diversity data generated by U.S. partner Dr. Emily Bellis to determine how Striga adapts to various environments and determines host compatibility. These data and the research by Dr. Runo and his colleagues should help to develop a well-informed deployment strategy for Striga resistant sorghum based on (1) eco-geographic regions with the most aggressive Striga and (2) compatibility or incompatibility between Striga ecotypes and selected sorghum varieties. Selected varieties will then be disseminated as StrigaSmartSorghum.

In the short term, StrigaSmartSorghum should improve the sustainability of food crop production systems and contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty of smallholder farmers by reducing the risk of crop failure, increasing profit margins, protecting yield, and extending the life of varieties that farmers have adopted. Increased yields will be harnessed for value addition in small and medium enterprises. The PI and his group will link farmers to other players in the sorghum value chain using their communication and dissemination team. In the longer term, manufacturing will expand and economic security will be enhanced. Because sorghum is considered a “women’s” crop in most Kenyan communities, this economic advancement will directly impact women. A further gender empowerment component of this proposal will address the training of a female student at the Ph.D. level. This training will foster sustainability of research in food security within Kenya. 

Summary of Recent Activities

In this reporting period, the PI gave a presentation at the Royal Society on July 05 2021: The role of African scientists in feeding the continent. The event was virtual and was attended by at least 120 participants.

As they work on wrapping up the project, the project team will conclude field activities scheduled for the current planting season. Other activities scheduled for the next quarter are: development of final virulence profiles of Striga in Western Kenya, policy advocy and communication.


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