Striga, commonly known as witchweed, is a parasitic plant that affects maize, East Africa's dominant agriculture crop. In Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, 1.4 million hectares of land are affected, causing as much as 80 percent crop loss. Such losses have catastrophic implications for the farmers that depend on growing maize because they often need to abandon their fields to the striga. With the African Agriculture Technology Foundation, a remedy is being commercialized: StrigAway. The video says it all:
StrigAway is an herbicide-coated maize seed that, when planted, reduces striga. It saves entire crops and incomes because it reduces farmers' risk of losing their business to the noxious weed. Commercializing it takes a mix of building demand, training farmers how to use the seed, packaging it for farmers to be able to afford, and demonstrating how it increases yields so that a farmer recoups the cost of the slightly more expensive seed. As Gospel Omanya says in the video below, "The math is clear because the yield brings the difference." What is that difference? With StrigAway seed, a farmer pays $20 to grow at least $200 of maize as compared to the conventional seed, for which $14 yields only $20 of profit.
Despite the fact that StrigAway brings such a clear benefit to farmers working in striga-prone areas of East Africa, it is not simple to promote it among farmers. A few lessons about commercializing seed that come from StrigAway include: 1) Packaging must clearly denote the seed's ability to knock out striga; 2) Agrodealers must be trained to market the product in terms of its properties to overcome striga; and 3) Most technologies, including seed, will need to build in climate-smart aspects in order for farmers to fully benefit, for example by bundling irrigation solutions.