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African scientists say to develop
cure for maize disease in 3 years

By Ronald Njoroge NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- African researchers said Wednesday they could develop a maize variety that is resistant to the thorny Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease within the next three years.

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) Director Ephraim Mukisira told journalists here that the screening of inbred lines has already shown positive signs.

"Collaborative research has already generated three promising lines and so we are optimistic that a Maize Lethal Necrosis resistant maize variety will be released to farmers within the next three years," Mukisira said during a regional conference on fighting the MLN disease in Nairobi.

The three-day forum brought over 100 scientists to chart way forward on how to address the maize disease. MLN is a viral disease caused by a combined infection of the Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus (MCMV) and Sugar Cane Mosaic Virus (SCMV). The disease was first detected in Kenya in 2011.

An estimated 26,000 hectares was affected in 2012 by the virus, translating into a loss valued at 23 million U.S. dollars or 1.7 percent loss of 38 million bags produced.

Mukisira said that the disease has since spread into neighboring Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda.

"In response to the outbreak, a multidisciplinary team comprising KARI, international research organizations, seed producers, regulatory agencies was formed to find ways of managing the disease," he said.

According to KARI, maize is an important staple crop to the majority of people in east and central Africa.

"In Kenya, the maize per capita consumption stands at 98 kilograms, while 90 percent of the population depends on the crop either directly or indirectly," he said.

Mukisira noted that the lowest income quartile of the Kenyan population spends 28 percent of its income on maize.

He said that Kenya has already developed six wheat varieties that are tolerant to the Ug99 wheat rust disease in less than nine years.

International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Global Maize Program Director Prasanna Boddupalli said that the demand for maize seed has decreased in the MLN-affected regions as a result of the disease.

"We are therefore encouraging the use of seeds that have been treated with systemic insecticides," he said. "However, this could lead to an increase in cost of seeds."

According to CIMMYT, the disease is also endemic in Peru, Argentina, the United States, Mexico and Thailand.

He added that investigations of commercial maize varieties released in Kenya indicate that a majority of them are very vulnerable to the virus.

Boddupalli said that in order to curb the spread of the virus, all international maize seeds shipment from an MLN-endemic country can only be produced in an MLN-free location.

Association for Strengthening Agriculture in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) Executive Director Fina Opio said that continuous mono cropping of maize over a long period makes the grain susceptible to the virus.

Opio said that a state of the art maize breeding facility will be established in Kenya next month.

ASARECA currently operates in countries including Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Madagascar.

"Each of these countries have good research programs but need to work collectively in order to address some cross cutting issues as the MLN disease," she said.

She added that there is still widespread cultivation of susceptible germplasm that has never been screened for MCMV.

ASARECA Program Manager for Staple Crops Dr Ivan Rwomushana said that the integration of MLN resistance is a critical component of maize breeding strategy. He called for the harmonization of all maize plantings so as to ensure a maize free period.

"Considering the seriousness of the disease there is urgency for the implementation of short, medium and long term research interventions," he said.

Rwomushana said that common symptoms include the maize combs that have poor seed set as well as shortened internodes..




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