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Scientists meeting in Mombasa say lethal
maize disease contained in eastern Africa

by Peter Mutai MOMBASA (Xinhua) -- Scientists from an international maize research organization said Thursday that a deadly maize disease that has ravaged farms across eastern Africa since 2011 has been contained.

Boddupalli Prasanna, director of global maize program at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, said the maize lethal necrosis disease (MLN) is under control in the region but not eradicated.

"We have managed to contain the spread of the disease within the region but continue to monitor its movements," Prasanna told a pan-African seed congress in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa.

He attributed the success to collaborative efforts from governments, farmers and research institutions in the region.

A survey conducted in late 2018 in eastern and southern Africa showed that there was no MLN in Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia, Prasanna said

"Tackling the MLN has been a challenge in the continent, but so far the success has been achieved through integration of various components," he added.

The scientist said incidence of the disease is falling in Kenya but continues to spread to other regions in Uganda.

Prasanna called on governments and partners to step up awareness in western and northern Africa.

The disease "moves so fast and it is difficult to predict where it will be spotted next, hence the need to intensify awareness amongst the farmers," he added.

Prasanna said an array of new measures, including the use of legumes to stop growing maize crop for at least two months, need to be taken to keep the disease away from the farms.

According to scientist, some 30 elite lines converted into MLN resistant versions, 15 MLN-tolerant hybrids have been released in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and an additional five hybrids are now under commercialization.

The varieties have been developed at an MLN screening facility in Naivasha, south-central Kenya.

Prasanna said that since 2014, researchers at the center have screened 175,173 germplasm from the center, regional research institutions and private seed companies.

"Most of the germplasm that were screened between 2014 and 2018 were found resistant to MLN," he said.

Prasanna said the same effort against MLN need to be applied in the management of fall armyworm that is equally threatening maize species in the continent.


Official says counterfeit seeds worsen food insecurity in Africa

MOMBASA (Xinhua) -- An influx of counterfeit and sub-standard seeds have worsened food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, a trade organization official said on Thursday.

Michael Keller, secretary general of the International Seed Federation (ISF), said robust interventions are key to ensuring that African small-holder farmers have access to high quality but affordable seeds.

"There is need to adopt a harmonized approach to ensure African farmers have access to certified seeds that are resistant to pests, diseases and climatic shocks," Keller told a pan-African congress on seeds in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa.

Keller called on African governments to collaborate and put in place a harmonized phytosanitary system to help control the movement of new pests in the continent.

"The system will help the continent access high quality and innovative seeds for farmers to enable them reap maximum profit," he said.

The move will also help motivate seed firms to deliver quality seed to their customers, Keller said.

"The system will facilitate trade and maintain access to high quality seeds by farmers at a reasonable cost," he said, noting that seeds are the main transmitters of diseases.

"You have to increase awareness and strengthen enforcement of counterfeit seeds to save farmers from making losses," Keller said.

He urged support for African countries to enact intellectual property rights and called on the private sector to ensure small-holder farmers have access to certified seeds in a timely manner.

Chinese seed companies showcase quality seeds at Kenya’s congress

MOMBASA (Xinhua) -- Two Chinese seed companies are among a number of global seed companies that are exhibiting at this year’s pan-African seed congress Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa.

Pang Seed and Winall-Tech Seed companies are among 39 local and international firms that are exhibiting at the congress.

Pang Ruilin, chief executive officer of Pang Seed, said the company is showcasing quality vegetable seeds.

The company’s varieties are already being sold in Algeria, Egypt and Angola, where it has offices, he said.

Pang said his cucumber, tomato, water melon and curly flower seeds are very popular on the African market and that his firm plans to open offices in other African countries.

Winall-Tech Seed Company Commercial Manager for Africa Bu Juesheng said his company has concentrated in selling vegetable seeds because they do not require heavy machinery.

"We breed and sell seeds that are suitable for smallholder farmers to help improve their income and food security," he said.

Bu said his company, which also sells rice and maize seed varieties in Angola and Mali respectively, plans to open another branch in Sierra Leon and additional others in eastern and southern Africa in 2020.

Riadh Gabsi, president of African Seed Trade Association (AFSTA), said the Mombasa congress is an opportunity for Chinese companies to explore the market and share their varieties with African farmers.

He said a number of Chinese seed companies have also registered as members of AFSTA, making the association one of the strongest globally.



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