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New wheat crops put Kenyan farmers back in the fields

New variations of wheat that are resistant to wheat stem rust Ug99 has brought new hope to farmers in Kenya, IRIN reports.

Nearly all of Kenya's wheat crops had been knocked out by a mutant fungus as of 2003. The fungus, named Ug99 after it was discovered in Uganda in 1999, spreads through wind-born spores and causes infected crops to produce fewer seeds, or die altogether.

The two new varieties of wheat - Eagle 10 and Robin - were developed by humanitarians and members of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI). Since 2005, KARI has looked at more than 200,000 types of wheat germplasms and of that number, only 10 percent were found to be somewhat resistant of Ug99. Of that 10 percent, only a few versions could be
adapted to survive in Kenya.

To introduce the new crops to farmers, KARI held a field day to teach them about the products. Many seemed eager to start farming again.

"I planted corn in my five-acre farm, where I had for many years been growing wheat, but I am optimistic that the new varieties will save me money which I spent on fungicides, and I am ready to plant when seeds are available," Peter Thiongo, a former wheat farmer, told the publication.

Currently, Kenya imports 60 percent of its wheat products.
 
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