Project overview

The Toothpick Project arms smallholder farmers with bio-herbicide technology to help them kill striga, a destructive parasitic weed attacking the roots of staple crops in sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers working in the field. Photo: WFP/Claire Baker and Dorcas Kemboi

The project's primary objective is to have the bio-herbicide reach Small Holder Farmers (SHF) on a large scale. The team pursued this goal by conducting experiments in three key areas:

  1. Training Farm to Market Alliance (FTMA) and Farmers Service Centres (FSC's) on the production of bio-herbicides.
  2. Distributing the bio-herbicides effectively.
  3. Implementing strategic communication and marketing tactics targeting farmers. Through meticulous testing, the project aimed to determine the most cost-effective approaches in these three domains, ultimately enabling the team to establish a scalable business and operational model.
The problem

Striga (witchweed), considered the worst pest threat to African food security, is an increasingly destructive parasitic weed on 40 million farms across sub-Saharan Africa. 

Attacking the roots of staple crops (maize, sorghum, millet, cowpea, dryland rice, etc.), it depletes farmers' yield by 20 to 100 percent on 50 million hectares of croplands in Africa. Eighty-five percent of maize smallholder farmers in Kenya are women, making Striga a gender-sensitive food security issue.

Dried up maize field. Photo: WFP/Claire Baker and Dorcas Kemboi

The solution

Toothpick’s bio-herbicide technology is one of the first commercialized bio-herbicides in the world. The novel innovation’s initial target weed is the menacing Striga (witchweed), with the pilot social enterprise in Kenya. When a farmer loses 20-100 percent of their yield to this devastating weed, using the Kichawi Kill bioherbicide to restore their crop yield breathes new life into their farm, providing food security and income. 

Using strains of a locally sourced fungus selected for inhibitory amino acid excretion, the innovation is safe, effective, affordable, host-specific, and environmentally friendly. The original version of the product was delivered to farmers on toothpicks, hence the name ‘Toothpick’. In June 2023, an exciting new seed coating product was approved, providing the product for a lower price with a longer shelf-life and a simpler distribution system. The company is currently operating in Kakamega, Kisumu, Bungoma, Busia, Siaya, HomaBay, and Migori Counties in Western and Nyanza, Kenya. 


  • The number of farmers who adopted Kichawi Kill increased from 2,424 to 4,363 in 2023.
  • The price of seed treatment for a 2kg bag of maize seed is 400 KES ($US 2.75). Farmers will see a very strong return on their investment. For example, increasing one 90kg bag of maize yield with this investment is a 7x improvement. Farmers with almost complete crop-loss have reported a 19x improvement
  • Over 200 Village Inoculum Producers, Promoters, and Agridealers are earning commission-based income
  • Demo plots span seven counties, with a heightened intensity in Busia County (70 demos).
  • Urgency: Striga is currently spreading (by wind, human movement, and shared farm equipment) more quickly than it can be managed. There is an urgency to reduce the spread.
Photo: WFP/Claire Baker and Dorcas Kemboi
Photo: WFP/Claire Baker and Dorcas Kemboi
Photo: WFP/Claire Baker and Dorcas Kemboi
The way forward

With the new seed coating product launch, the Toothpick team is quickly scaling up manufacturing with an equipped lab and clean room, as well as the acquisition of a freezer for production, a packaging machine, and a solar power system to keep the production running smoothly. The team is testing and evaluating distribution channels and marketing to farmers. The company is expected to reach scale in 2025. 

In anticipation of expanding beyond Kenya, a team of scientists from thirteen sub-Saharan African countries was trained in 2018. These researchers will help prepare for the steps for commercialization in their countries, using the Kenya pilot as a model for replication. Beyond Africa and striga, the biocontrol technology is poised to rock the US$ 34 billion herbicide market with one of the first effective, safe, and cost-effective solutions.

Farmers standing in the middle of a field. Photo: WFP/Claire Baker and Dorcas Kemboi

“I heard about Kichawi kill from my friend Janet who is a good farmer, because I had doubts I purchased only 2 buckets for trial and surprisingly I didn’t see Striga emerging from my farm. I am hopeful that I will get some yield this season as you can see what my maize looks like.”
Lilian Makokha, a small holder farmer in Kibeu in Bungoma County, Kenya.

Meet the team

Claire Bakker
Co-founder, Toothpick Ltd
Dorcas Kemboi
General Manager
Lilian Nkatha
Admin and Finance Officer
Loise Kioko
John Odenge
Agribusiness Advisor
Collince Obonyo
Sales and Marketing Officer
Simon Machimbo
Sales and Marketing Officer
Dalmas Waswa
Sales and Marketing Officer
Nemrod Gesusu
Lab Assistant
John Makasi
Peter Luth
Jaydeep Akkireddy
Last updated: 14/03/2024