nISSUE NO. 3607 

Februaury 15 - 21, 2013


 Coastweek   Kenya

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Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania
fight stubborn maize disease

the disease led to the loss of 30-100 percent
of maize in areas in central Kenya, coastal
and western Kenya regions that it attacked

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- A strange disease of maize that appeared in farmers’ field in Eastern Africa in 2011 has brought together research institutions to control its spread and also develop and deploy resistant maize varieties for farmers.

The Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) which first appeared in Kenyan maize farms in September 2011 in the Rift Valley have fast spread to far flung regions of the country and into the neighboring Tanzania and Uganda.

This has now forced scientists from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and Tanzanian and Ugandan national institutes to look for a lasting solution of the problem since it is likely to interfere with the realization of the MDGs one on poverty reduction.

“We are screening a large set of diverse pre-commercial hybrids from CIMMYT and other public and private institutions to identify and validate MLN resistance,” KARI Director Dr. Ephrahim Mukusira said  onWednesday during a regional workshop on MLN and its management in Nairobi.

He said that the disease is a real threat considering the fact that climate change is also reducing Kenya’s 20 percent of arable land.

Mukisira revealed that the disease led to the loss of 30-100 percent of maize in areas in central Kenya, coastal and western Kenya regions that it attacked.

Dr. B.M. Prasanna CIMMYT’s Director of Global Maize Program said that the joint team research is cost effective rather than each country conducts its own research yet the problem affects all countries.

“This approach is also talking lead by producing germplasm from Africa as opposed to importing germplasm from the western world,” he noted. He assured farmers not to panic as the solution is just about to come out following intensive research that is on going.

In Tanzania, the disease was discovered late last year in Mwanza, Arusha and Manyara regions where maize plants were noticed to be dying.

“We thought that the dying of maize plants was caused by stem borer but after a close investigation by our pathologists, we discovered that it was MLN,” Kheri Kitenge, a maize breeder at Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) of Selian said.

He noted that with the help of pathologists from CIMMYT, it was discovered that its symptoms were the same as those found in Kenya in 2011.

Kitenge revealed that since the discovery, they have been screening gerplasm which are regionally available to help develop new varieties using resistant parental materials to release resistant varieties that is to be released to farmers.

“In October 2012, farmers and extension officers in Busia reported a strange disease in their fields and after a verification visit was made typical symptoms of MLN were observed fields in boarder districts of Busia and Tororo where it severely affected crops,” said Godfery Asea, National Agricultural Research Organization maize breeder.

He noted that farmers’ in Sikuda and Buteba sub-counties in Busia and Sikuda sub-county in Tororo County revealed that they first heard about it from Busia in Kenya.

Asea said that the disease is now spreading to the central part of the country where it has already been detected in Iganga and Mbale Counties.

According to Dr. Anne Wangai KARI’s Chief Research Scientist pockets of the disease has been reported in Rift Valley and parts of Central province early this year.

She however revealed that the maize growing region of North Rift recorded low incidences of the disease hence giving hope that there may be no maize shortage in the country.

“We are currently screening a variety of germ plasm where experiments are underway in a farm in Naivasha and very soon we are introducing resistant varieties,” he said.

Wangai said that the disease has affected food security, reduced farm income and uncertainty on period it will take for farmers to receive effective, affordable and sustainable control measures.

“It is advisable that communities adopt other food varieties but this shift from their dietary preference of maize is too difficult for them to imagine,” she noted.

Wangai said that as the resistant varieties are being awaited, there is need to introduce closed maize seasons, quarantine movement, removal and disposal of infected maize crop and also practice crop rotation schedules.

“We are soon providing alternative high value traditional crops such as cassava and sweet potato to encourage diversification of cropping away from maize,” said Mukisira.

Dr. Esther Kimani from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) blamed the occurrence of strange viruses to climate change and trade.

She called on scientists to take keen care while importing germplasm since they pose danger of coming along with strange viruses.

“These strange diseases are to blame for food insecurity in the region and due vigilance must be put in place,” she added.

She disclosed that KEPHIS does not have specific regulation on MLND since there is very little information on it and it has not been categorized as high risk disease.

“There is no specific regulation on MLND but actions are guided as developed by International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), Cap 324 and 326 of the laws of Kenya for disease management,” she added.

She however told scientists to ensure that all actions be science based since currently major scientific information about the disease is scanty.

The scientists calls on farmers in affected areas in the region to diversify and start growing some crops apart from maize, weed fields regularly to eliminate alternate hosts for insect vectors and use maize varieties that are resistant to MLN.

According to farmers, the problem started with the planting of contaminated seeds from agro vet shops. Others said that it came from government relief seeds, Insects damage and frost damage.

The MLND disease is caused by a combination of two viruses; the Sugarcane Mosaic Virus (SCMV) and Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus (MCMV).

The disease affects a wide range of maize varieties and its symptoms occur on all stages of crop from four leaf stage up to maturity. Some symptoms found on the cobs too and planting a new crop next to an older affected crop encouraged disease spread and the combination of symptoms may be seen on a plant.

It is causing mild to severe mottling on the leaves, usually starting from the base of young leaves and extending upwards. Its other symptoms include stunting and premature aging of the plants and dying of the leaf margin.


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