Western Kenya under the Dodder Parasitic Attack as the Government Watches in Silence

By Steve Biko Wafula / April 9, 2018




Growing up, agriculture wasn’t my passion but my parents were into it. We were able to go school courtesy of proceeds from sugar cane, maize and coffee farming. My folks were prized farmers. For me, I just wanted to be a lawyer and get away from the village.

But life has a way of reminding us where we have come from. It has a way of telling us what matters and right now, agriculture is the core of any economy.

Agriculture is the foundation of retail. It’s the denominator of processing. It’s the essence of manufacturing. It’s the aura of value-add processing. It’s the mother lode of job creation.

I have been traveling a lot across the country trying to plug into agriculture but in a different way than my parents were. Trying to figure out how agriculture can be sexy in overalls and mud and thorns.

In my travels, I have noticed a particular parasitic disease that is attacking trees, flowers, and plants on key farms in Western and Luo Nyanza and North Rift. These regions are the bread and basket of our beloved country. But I never paid any attention, you know, the usual Kenyan style, that as long as it’s not affecting me, it doesn’t bother me. Until the same parasitic disease came to my trees and flowers and my favorite childhood tree in the village.

In the Bukusu language, we call this tree ’Kumukhuyu’ Its English name is Sycamore Fig (Ficus sycomorus).

 

In the Bukusu language, we call the tree, …’Kumukhuyu…’ it’s older than me. It’s a key Mark on the Webuye – Bungoma road. It even has a stage name called…,’ Amukhuyu…’ it used to be our stopover for resting on our way to and from church when we didn’t have money for a bike and we would pass through the swampy area to get to church. Its English name is Sycamore Fig (Ficus sycomorus). I finally paid attention because my favorite spot to church was under attack from this greenish plant that everyone noticed but ignored and had found itself all over the county.

This repugnant parasite is referred to as the dodder weed (Cuscuta). It is a parasitic plant. It has roots during its initial stage of infestation which disappears as it matures. There are unconfirmed reports that it was introduced in Western Kenya as an ornamental flower plant. Like who in the name of flowers would introduce such as an ornamental flower. I know we Luhyas might have challenges but this is a different kind of level of sabotage that is not present amongst us. This dodder plant has caused so much damage and now that it’s the planting season I am worried we might see a significant drop in crop output.

The attack on my farm was fast and ferocious and we spent a lot in terms of manpower to uproot and replant trees, crops, and flowers. My neighbors don’t seem bothered which means it’s still finding its way to my farm and this is frustrating and annoying.

Am left wondering, what is happening to our farming practices where the crop yield seems to be dropping at least 10% every year and if we haven’t noticed, our import of basic foods that we could grow and sustain here is increasing by more or less the same margin.

The damage is great yet we seem unperturbed by the parasitic plant. Am I missing something? And it’s even more difficult in the sense that there are no longer agricultural offices where one can go for help and seek guidance and invoke the governments help.

Did someone bring this plant to western and the neighboring regions for sabotage or ignorance bliss? Rumors of bad fertilizer, dead seeds and lack of pesticides have been rife. But this dodder thing stands out and farmers I have spoken to are helpless on what to do about it hence they ignoring to their chagrin as it spreads far and wide.

Where is the ministry of Agriculture to solve this, to advise farmers on what is the best way forward to deal with this dodder parasite? Where is the government to retrace its steps on how this got into the country as an ornamental flower? Like who in their right mind says that and they get it through customs?

Dealing with this witches hair kind of plant is not easy and it’s expensive and it might just cause serious food insecurity in the country if not checked on time. According to Wikipedia, the best way in dealing with an infested area is to take swift action. Recommendations include planting a non-host crop for several years after the infestation, pulling up host crops immediately, particularly before the dodder produces seed and use of preemergent herbicides such as Dacthal in the spring.

Examples of non-host crops include grasses and many other monocotyledons. If dodder is found before it chokes a host plant, it may be simply removed from the soil. If choking has begun, the host plant must be pruned significantly lower than the dodder, as dodder is versatile and can grow back if present from haustoria.

Western Kenya is choking with this dodder plant and no one is talking about. Where is the media to highlight this or do they indeed believe that it’s an ornamental flower?

Many countries have laws prohibiting the import of dodder seed, requiring crop seeds to be free of dodder seed contamination. This bring me back to my earlier statement about unconfirmed reports of farmers complaining of contaminated seeds that have been easy to be attacked by parasites and other diseases that they don’t know. The quality of our seeds and fertilizer has been an open secret and as usual, our corrupted media never bothered to investigate.

I write this wondering what is going to happen to our favorite tree in Webuye. Wondering if it will be chocked to death by a parasite that some repugnant Kenyan brought to our beautiful village town. I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture will read this and take the necessary action before it’s too late. We must fight this dodder attack before crop yields drop to a crazy number that will definitely mean a starving country. We need to wake and be vigilant with what is coming to our farms.



About Steve Biko Wafula

Steve Biko is the CEO OF Soko Directory and the founder of Hidalgo Group of Companies. Steve is currently developing his career in law, finance, entrepreneurship and digital consultancy; and has been implementing consultancy assignments for client organizations comprising of trainings besides capacity building in entrepreneurial matters. He can be reached on: +254 20 510 1124 or Email: [email protected]

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