USAID launches projects to develop Striga-resistant sorghum varieties in Kenya, Ethiopia

KENYA/ETHIOPIA – The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched a new public-private partnership project “Feed the Future Striga Smart Sorghum for Africa (SSSfA)” in Kenya and Ethiopia that utilizes CRISPR genome editing to develop new sorghum varieties resistant to Striga.

Striga is a parasitic weed responsible for up to 100 percent yield loss in Africa’s staple cereals, thus posing a great danger to the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers on the continent.

The three-year multi-institutional, multi-sectoral project is supported by the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future and led by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). 

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA) AfriCenter, Kenyatta University (Kenya), and Addis Ababa University (Ethiopia) are the key partners, and USAID has given them about US$3.8 million to support them.

A representative of Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Gatama Gichini, oversaw the project launch in Kenya.

Along with other dignitaries, he was joined by Prof. Paul Wainaina, Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University.

The Education Cabinet Secretary thanked Kenyatta University, ISAAA AfriCenter, and their collaborators for their zeal and diligence in securing funding for this project in his speech, which was read by Dr. Gichini.

He expressed optimism that the project will help the government achieve its agricultural and economic objectives, particularly as it prioritizes sorghum as one of the maize alternatives.

“The Ministry encourages the partners to anchor the project within Government agricultural programs for synergy and optimum success,” he said. 

Prof. Wainaina underscored that the importance of the project is strengthening the capacity for scientists to engage stakeholders effectively through effective science communication. 

“This will go a long way in instilling public confidence and ensuring evidence-based decision-making at all levels,” the VC remarked.

The project has been acclaimed by the project’s leading partners as a game-changer in Africa’s fight against the impacts of climate change on agriculture.

“We are grateful for this outstanding award. This is a clear demonstration of USAID’s strong commitment to address our continent’s agricultural challenges and empower African smallholder farmers through yield improvement interventions,” said Dr. Margaret Karembu, SSSfA’s primary contact.

Another project contact, Prof. Steven Runo, called the new project a win for agriculture in the region. 

“Striga infestation is a real menace in sub-Saharan Africa. We convey our utmost gratitude to USAID for the big support in arresting this mammoth challenge and ensuring the region becomes food sufficient,” remarked Prof. Runo.

The developed Striga-Smart sorghum varieties will be registered for commercial cultivation. 

As nations in Africa adopt CRISPR in the breeding of superior, robust, and climate-smart crop varieties, the success of commercialized genome-edited crops is anticipated to have a ripple effect throughout the continent.

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