By Peter Mutai NAIVASHA
(Xinhua) -- The Maize Lethal Necrosis
(MLN) that has been ravaging the critical staple crop across East
Africa since 2011 is yet to diminish the passion of local
Despite rollout of robust
interventions to contain the disease, it remains a big threat to
food and nutritional security in a region that is grappling with
other challenges like population growth, shrinking arable land and
Kenyan smallholders have borne the brunt of ravages of Maize
Lethal Necrosis and a significant number of them were at some point
forced to replace cultivation of the cereal with other crops.
"I had to abandon maize cultivation and embraced Napier grass due
to dismal harvest occasioned by the lethal Maize Lethal Necrosis,"
said Purity Wanjiku, a farmer in Naivasha region located 90
kilometers northwest of Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
The middle-aged farmer told Xinhua during a visit at her farm on
Wednesday that the last three years have been bad since the outbreak
of MLN that has devastated maize planted by large and small scale
"Before the disease struck, I used to harvest a minimum of 50
bags of 90 kilograms bags of maize in one acre.
"Currently, the harvest has really gone down, forcing me to plant
Napier grass in large portions of my farm," Wanjiku said.
Nevertheless a significant number of her peers are still
cultivating maize despite the high risk of losing an entire harvest
They prefer maize over other crops since it can be consumed in
different forms and has higher nutritional levels.
"Regardless of the little maize we harvest from the farm, it
remains a precious commodity, because of the many ways we consume it
even in little amount.
"But the Maize Lethal Necrosis remains a threat in this region,"
She was optimistic that a solution to MLN menace will be found
soon thanks to intensified research and public awareness.
Kenya’s ministry of agriculture and international research
agencies have prioritized the fight against MLN to minimize its
adverse impact on the country’s food security.
"Maize is a robust crop and is here to stay," Dr. Boddupalli
Prassana, Director of CIMMYT’s Global Maize Program, said while
allaying fears from farmers on its possible demise due to an
onslaught by virulent diseases and pests.
Prassana noted that vibrant interventions initiated by CIMMYT,
Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and seed
companies in MLN-endemic regions have borne positive results.
"We have worked to adopt internal controls for MLN-free seed
production and commercialization since 2015," Prassana told Xinhua.
He disclosed that four hybrid MLN free maize varieties have
already been released in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
According to Prassana, one variety has been in released in Uganda
and Tanzania while two varieties have been released in the Kenyan
He added that these efforts have yielded good results for some
seed companies who have drastically reduced losses and curbed the
spread of MLN in their production fields and commercial seed lots.
Prassana observed that as they work toward commercializing MLN
tolerant varieties, these seed companies have made good strides to
strengthen their internal diagnostics and management efforts.
He further noted that five hybrid varieties will be released
later this year while 19 varieties are currently undergoing National
Performance Trails (NPT) in different countries in the region.
"We plan to introduce 20 MLN maize free varieties in Sub-Saharan
Africa (SSA) by 2020," said Prassana.
He cautioned smallholder farmers who have realized massive loss
at 100 percent cereal loss to stop recycling seeds more than twice
but instead rotate crops in their farms.
"This is the only way that farmers could help in the fight
against MLN disease that has a long way before it is eradicated in
the region," Prassana noted.
Studies have shown that commercial seed flows have been the
initial source of the spread of the MLN-transmitting viruses over
huge geographical regions across East Africa.
As a result, seed companies in the region have also suffered
substantial losses both in yield and profits from infested
"Efforts to buffer farmers from MLN have also targeted seed
companies to produce MLN-free commercial seed to reach smallholders
and we are in the process of negotiating with donors to support them
further in up scaling production," said Prassana.
At the MLN screening facility in Naivasha quarantined and
regulated environment to screen maize germplasm from public and
private maize breeding programs is done, to develop MLN tolerant and
Nine National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARS) from Kenya,
Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan and
Mozambique are currently conducting research on MLN at the screening
The University of Nairobi and Ohio State University in the United
States also have their seeds being tried in the facility.
Fifteen seed companies from the region and other parts of the
world have also supplied their seeds to the facility for testing.