KENYA – Maize seed production is set to be revolutionized in the country following a seven-year research by the Kenya Agriculture Research and Livestock Organisation (KALRO) in collaboration with the Seed Production Technology for Africa (SPTA).
The technology which involved key players developed a high-quality hybrid seed variety with improved yields that may turn around the fortunes of farmers at a lower production cost of goods and complexity of producing the seed
Explaining the new technology, Dr Eliud Kireger, Director General at KALRO said that the technology, Seed Production Technology for Africa (SPTA) eliminates the need for detasseling, a highly intensive process that accounts for up to 40 percent increase in the cost of hybrid maize seeds.
Detasseling is the process of removing tassels from the top of the maize plant to deter self-pollination that may lead to inbreeding.
According to him, the research is timely, following that farmers have grappled with the high cost of hybrid maize seeds for many years.
He therefore depicted hope, stating that, in the next year, they will access cheaper hybrid maize seeds, thanks to the new technology.
“One of the challenges farmers face is accessing affordable quality maize seeds because the cost of production or breeding hybrid seeds is expensive. This makes the seeds expensive in the market,” Dr Kireger said in Kitale where the technology was being tested.
Other partners in the project are Corteva Agriscience, the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa (ARC), Qualibasic Seed (QBS), and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT).
Dr. Kireger explained that the new technology uses a naturally occurring maize gene called Ms44 that eliminates the need for detasseling during both steps of three-way hybrid maize seed production
During seed production, non-pollen-producing female parent plants are sown alongside an elite male parent line that produces pollen.
Cross-pollination between the female and male parents is therefore more reliable and cost-effective, eliminating any self-pollination and improving the purity of hybrid seed product,” he said.
Currently, seed producers and companies in Africa, including Kenya, prevent self-fertilization by manual detasseling, a time-sensitive process, which involves removing the pollen-producing tassels from the seed-bearing maize plants
Dr. Kireger noted that through extensive research undertaken at KALRO research centers of Kiboko, Embu, Kakamega, and Kitale and on-farm trials with farmers in Embu, Kirinyaga, Kakamega, Busia, and Bungoma., the benefits of SPTA to farmers include assured seed quality and higher yields in low yielding environments.
Hybrid maize produced using SPTA segregates 1:1 for pollen-producing and non-pollen-producing plants and is referred to as 50% non-pollen-producing (FNP).
Following confirmatory National Performance Trials (NPT) in 2022 by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), three (3) FNP hybrids (CHKM21W002, CHKM21W003 and CHKE21W001) which are adapted to low soil fertility conditions have been recommended for release.
In addition, two (2) other FNP hybrids (CHKM21W001 and CKDHH15008FNP) are in the second year of testing in the National Performance Trials.