Kenyan scientists feted for fighting wheat diseases
Three crop scientists from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) have been awarded for their efforts in fighting the different strains of rust disease that affects wheat.
The researchers won the 2015 Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) Gene Stewardship Award and received ‘Norman Borlaug” statue during the ceremony held in Sydney, Australia, this week.
They are Ruth Wanyera, a senior plant pathologist, Peter Njau, a senior wheat breeder and Godwin Macharia, also a wheat breeder.
Kalro Director-General Eliud Kireger said through the researchers’ efforts and others at the organisation, they have increased wheat production in the country from 160,000 to 180,000 hectares.
Over the years, Kalro has been collaborating with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre in development and adoption of rust-resistant varieties.
Since 2008, over 350 wheat varieties from 25 countries have been tested for disease-resistance in Njoro to ensure that the crop is resistant to UG99, stem rust, yellow rust and leaf rust.
Wheat is the second most important cereal in Kenya after maize.
However, according to Kireger, Kenya produces 450 metric tonnes annually, an approximated half of the demand, sourcing the deficit through imports.
In 2010, researchers released the Robin wheat variety which is known for its resistance to yellow rust and stem rust.
Owing to its high productivity, according to Njau, Robin is a popular variety accounting to 40 per cent of wheat grown in the country.
Other popular varieties include Eagle 10 and Kingbird.
BGRI vice-chair Ronnie Coffman said the researchers deserved the win as they had, over the last eight years, built a collaborative platform in Njoro to test wheat germplasm from all over the world.
“The team has also developed the capacity of a rust screening programme that has successfully tested thousands and thousands of the world’s wheat varieties against rust,” he added
Over 300,000 farmers grow wheat in the country, according to the Agriculture ministry. However, some have abandoned the crop due to diseases.
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