KENYA – Maize farmers in Kenya can now access more affordable hybrid maize seeds, thanks to a new technology developed by the Kenya Agriculture Research and Livestock Organization (Kalro), addressing the long-standing challenge of rising seed costs.

Dubbed ‘Seed Production Technology for Africa’ (SPTA), the technology eliminates the need for detasseling manually, a highly intensive and time-consuming process that accounts for a 40 to 60 per cent increase in the cost of hybrid maize seeds. 

Detasseling is the process of manually removing the tassel (pollen-producing flowers) from the top of the maize plant to prevent it from pollinating itself.

Maize hybrid seed producers have been preventing self-fertilisation through manual detasseling, ending up transferring the cost to farmers.

Speaking on the technology, Dr Masinde Wanyama, the principal lead researcher at KALRO, said that the technology utilises a dominant non-pollen-producing maize gene, Ms44, to produce female parent plants that are unable to produce pollen; hence need not to be detasseled during hybrid seed production process. 

With the gene, the tassel of the female plant will not be able to produce pollen. This means that the silk of the female plants will only be fertilised with pollen from desired male plant variety,” stated Dr Wanyama.

He adds that the technology will be presented to local seed companies on a royalty-free basis. 

 “That means labour costs of detassiling are saved for the benefit of the farmer. Generally, the cost of producing will reduce by 40 to 60 per cent depending on the maize variety,” he noted.

Eliud Kireger, Karlo Director General explained that through collaborative research undertaken by the organisation and its partners, the project has developed five hybrids.

Three hybrids, one early maturing variety (CHKE21W001) and two medium maturing varieties (CHKM21W002 and CHKM21W003) have already been recommended for release by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis). 

Two hybrids – (CHKM21W001 and CKDHH15008FNP) – are in the second year of testing in National Performance Trials and are likely to be released later this year.

These hybrids demonstrated excellent emergence, good nitrogen use efficiency, high yields of 25-30 bags per acre and yield stability in the early and medium altitude agro-ecological zones, he noted. 

The Kalro boss noted that the new varieties have recorded five per cent more yields compared to the pollen-producing varieties under low soil fertility conditions. 

SPTA hybrids also had excellent standability, good plant aspects and closed husk cover, among other attributes. 

KALRO expects to be at the forefront in the production of hybrids that are climate-smart, high quality and with reduced production and retail prices to benefit more farmers in the country.  

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