-- Kenyan researchers have discovered
maize seed hybrids that have shown a lot of promise
against the maize virus that has ravaged the cereal
growing areas of the country.
Kenya Agricultural Research
Institute (KARI) Virologist Dr. Anne Wangui told
journalists in Nairobi on Thursday that her
institution is in the process of carrying out germ
plasm screening in order to search for maize
"The most successful management
protocol for the maize virus, Maize Lethal Necrosis
disease, could be use of hybrid maize strains that
contain some level of resistance," Wangui said
during a media briefing by the Open Forum for
Biotechnology in Africa.
The disease outbreak’s focal point
was in Bomet County which is approximately 300 km
northwest of Nairobi.
Since September 2011 when it was first
noticed and reported, at least 75,000 hectares of
maize crop has been affected.
The government is also encouraging
affected farmers to plant alternative crops in order
to break the virus transmission cycle.
"Depending on the areas, crops
such as potatoes, cassava, cabbages, carrots and
sweet potatoes can be planted in order to ensure
Kenya has food security," the scientist added.
Experts said the east African nation
will have a favorable maize availability despite a new
disease that has affected yields in some areas, easing
concerns of a new round of high food prices in the
Maize is the country’s staple food
used to prepare variety of local dishes, making it
highly vulnerable to supply and demand forces.
Drop in maize production often
results into expensive imports that push the cost of
food high resulting in higher inflation.
The overall national maize output is
expected to be lower by up to 25 percent according to
Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture because of
relatively poor availability of inputs during
planting, maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND)
outbreaks, effects of flash floods in April and May,
and the possibility of heightened pre- and post-
harvest losses due to the enhanced short rains.
KARI said that by using molecular
techniques they found out that the maize virus was
caused by a combination of two diseases.
"The Sugarcane Mosaic Virus and
the Maize Chloratic Virus have been identified with
the latter accounting for 60 percent of yield
loss," Wangui said.
The diseases lead to gradual withering
of maize crops, which eventually die.
The viral diseases that affect
different varieties of maize seeds have destroyed
several acres of crops in various parts of the east
Notable among them are areas in Rift
Valley, Western, Central, Eastern and Nyanza, Kenya’s
breadbasket zones, where millions of people risk
starvation due to the diseases.
According to the Ministry of
Agriculture there could be inadequate planting
material for the substitute crops.
Ministry of Agriculture Field
Officer Mary Mugo said there is also resistance
among farmers to move away the staple crop.
Other causes of the disease, according
to the ministry, are mixing of several types of maize
crops on one farm and failure by farmers to practice
intercropping or crop rotation.
Agricultural experts noted planting,
for instance, sweet pepper or onion with maize, kales
or beans helps in pest control.
She noted the government constituted a
multidisciplinary technical team in order to find a
long-term solution to the virus.
The government official said field
observations revealed the virus affects all maize
varieties with farmers experiencing a loss of between
30 to 100 percent of all planted crop depending on the
stage when the maize is affected.
International Maize and Wheat
Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Cropping System
Agronomist Fred Kanampiu said the government should
establish maize closed seasons.
"Some of these areas plant
maize throughout the year which is sustaining
disease and vector cycle," Kanampiu said.
He added the disease is transmitted
within a short period of time when the vectors jab
into the plant.
"By the time the farmer
realizes, the damage has already been done," he
The Seed Trade Association of Kenya (STAK)
Executive Officers Dr Evans Sikinyi said it is prudent
to remove all infected maize material from the field
in order to prevent further soil contamination.
Sikinyi advised farmers to practice
crop rotation schedules in order to improve soil
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate
Service (KEPHIS) Head of Plant Quarantine Francis
Mwatuni said the government has still not confirmed
how the virus ended up in Kenya.
"Comprehensive research is yet
to be carried out and so farmers are asked to take
precautions," he said.
The ministry of agriculture is
currently in the process of breeding varieties of
seeds that are resistant to Maize Chlorotic Mottle
Virus and Sugar Mosaic Virus diseases.
However, they will certainly not be
used by farmers this season, which puts Kenya at risk
of being food insecure.
The east African nation doubled it
maize imports from Uganda and Tanzania and expects to
import over 600,000 90kg bags of maize by September
The ministry in its latest food
security report projected Kenya will harvest about 4
million bags of maize by September.
The outbreak of diseases is, however,
expected to significantly reduce the forecast.