Fighting ‘Witch Weed’ with the Radio

Fighting ‘Witch Weed’ with the Radio

Malian farmers examine sorghum before the harvest. Thanks to educational radio programs, they have learned to protect their crops from striga.

Five years ago, nothing grew well in Barafo Théra’s family farm, which lies in the community of Damy in Mali. Nothing, that is, except for a weed called striga. Striga is a parasitic plant that attaches itself to the roots of host plants, sapping them of nutrients. What this means for farmers like Mr. Théra is finding their staple crops such as millet and sorghum yellow, stunted, and withering. This leads to poor or non-existent harvests and, all too often, hunger.

Striga affects two-thirds of the land that African farmers devote to cereal crops, overtaking the very crops that families rely on for their staple food. The weed is so pervasive that many experts consider it the greatest obstacle to food security in Africa. It’s so hated that it’s earned the nickname “witch weed.”

Year after year Mr. Théra, his wife Worowé Kamaté, and their four children, faced poor harvests and food shortages due to striga. But everything changed the day he met with a local farmers union.

“Talking is good, but you will understand me better if you see my field today,” Mr. Théra says as he leads Farm Radio International writer Mariam Koné past their family compost pit. They have four acres of farmland. Here his family grows millet, sorghum, fonio, and sesame. Thanks to composting and other farming techniques that he learned from the farmers union, the fields are a healthy green and free from striga. The couple now produce plenty of food for their family, with a small surplus to sell for cash.

The farming techniques that allowed Mr. Théra and Mrs. Kamaté to save their crops from striga are low cost and relatively simple to learn. These include practices like intercropping legumes with cereal crops and penning livestock to provide a ready supply of manure fertilizer. However, knowledge about these practices has been slow to spread. That’s where Farm Radio International comes in.

Through a partnership with the same farmers union that helped Mr. Théra and his family, a local radio station, and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, Farm Radio International is spreading the word on effective techniques to combat striga to hundreds of thousands of Malian farmers. We are also gathering resources so that we can reach farmers in Burkina Faso with similar educational radio programs that explain steps to fight striga.

Vambiè Théra, who hails from the community of Pérakuy in Mali, was one of the farmers reached by the educational programs. He had heard about striga, but didn’t think of it immediately when his crops quickly withered one year. Instead he consulted traditional spiritualists who advised that his crop was cursed and that he should make animal sacrifices to return good fortune to his fields. He carried out the prescribed rituals to no avail – his harvest was half of what he expected, meaning food shortages for his family.

His luck finally changed for the better when he turned his radio dial to Farm Radio International partner Radio Moutian while it aired an educational program about striga. He quickly learned that striga was worse than he imagined, but that it could be controlled. He took careful note of the methods to prevent striga – methods which also promote good soil health, since striga thrives in poor soil environments.

Now every night, my family listens to the next part of the story on Radio Moutian. And I’m not the only one – just ask the radio station – (the striga program) has become their flagship show,

says Vambiè Théra. Armed with the information on how to prevent striga, he’s already taken steps to prepare for the upcoming planting season and reclaiming his family’s food security.

Spring 'Network News' 2012

This story is featured in the latest issue of our newsletter, Network News. Click here to read more.

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