Kenya: Disease threatens maize (IRIN, Capital FM, Kenya Daily Nation)

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A disease called maize lethal necrosis has affected at least 300,000 farmers in Kenya’s Rift Valley Province, according to government officials. The province produces about half the country’s maize.

Mr. Joseph Koech of Ilmotiook village in the district of Narok South is one of the many farmers who have been affected. He has cleared his farm and replanted on the three acres that were affected.

He says, “I now have a small crop from the farm, and the pain of braving hunger that I would have been spared had my earlier plantation matured.” He first heard of the disease affecting farmers in nearby Bomet late last year. Then it struck Narok South.

Mr. Koech continues, “Every farmer has been affected by the disease. The leaves turn yellow and then the whole plant rots away within weeks. It continues to spread by the day.”

Peter Siele is a crop science lecturer at the University of Nairobi. He warns, “Unless the disease is stopped in good time, and that time must be now, this country will have no harvests of maize this season.” Experts estimate that 70 per cent of the maize in Rift Valley Province is affected. Farmers’ organizations are calling for the government to compensate affected maize farmers.

Dr. Johnson Irungu is director of crop management at the Ministry of Agriculture. He says, “The devastation the disease has caused is huge and we can’t deny that. But what we are now going to do quickly is to stop it from spreading to other regions.” Scientists at the state-owned Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services have urged the government to destroy the entire crop affected by the disease as a control measure.

Farmers are being advised to plant only one crop of maize per season and use certified seeds only. They are also being told to avoid moving maize plant materials from infested regions to other areas, and to burn diseased plants. The Ministry is advising farmers to keep fields free from weeds which could host and further spread the disease, which is easily spread by wind.

Minister of Agriculture Sally Kosgey has assured the country that, “There is absolutely no cause for alarm. We are as food-secure as we were last year.” She said the Ministry will set up plant health clinics where farmers can seek assistance in diagnosing the disease. The Minister has also asked the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to start breeding resistant varieties.

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