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 Killing Kenya's Maize Crop

Killing Kenya's Maize Crop

As a virus outbreak ravages Kenya's maize crop, there are differing explanations, and increasing unease.

By Line : JACOB NG'ETICH

Posted : 13-06-2012

Last Modified : 25-07-2012

Killing Kenya's maize crop

 

When Mrs. Poltas Nyanchama planted maize on her 10-acre farm early in the year, she was sure of a bumper harvest.

Now the farmer at the Kineni Settlement Scheme in Nyamira County does not know what to do about her farm.

The Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease has ravaged the maize field that has been her main investment for the past five years.

“As a widow who plans to retire in the near future, I started farming so that I could take my children through school even after retirement,” says Mrs Nyachama.

But now, instead of waiting to cash in on her produce, the farmer faces a daunting task; she must fork out more money to clear the maize stalks from the farm.

She is wondering how she will service a Sh200,000 bank loan that she invested in the farm. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the maize stalks; slash them and let them decompose on the farm or, feed them to cows, or bury them?”  wonders Mrs Nyanchama.

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

She is wondering how she will service a Sh200,000 bank loan that she invested in the farm. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with the maize stalks; slash them and let them decompose on the farm or, feed them to cows, or bury them?”  wonders Mrs Nyanchama.

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

“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,” says Mr Koech. He first heard of the disease affecting farmers in Bomet late last year, then it struck Narok South.

“We don’t know which farm was first infected here. 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,” says Mr Koech.

The case of Mrs Nyanchama and Mr Koech represents the pain of thousands of farmers in Bomet, Narok, and Nyamira counties and other pockets of maize planting areas across the country.  

In terms of national food security, the latest assault on maize production heralds a disaster.

The minister for Agriculture, Dr Sally Kosgei, says MLN is easily spread by the wind and can affect thousands of acres of farmland in a short time.

“The disease, which causes infected plants to stunt, show chlorosis (turn pale) and die close to the flowering stage, occurs after combined infections by two viruses called maize chlorotic mottle virus (MCMV) and either maize dwarf mosaic virus (MDMV) or wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV,” says  Dr Kosgei.

The minister’s announcement contradicted a Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) report that identified the disease as leaf stripe, caused by the fungus Cephalosporium acremonium.

The Agriculture minister said the disease affected all varieties of maize and insisted that it was not seed-borne. “There is, therefore, no fear of spreading the disease through seed.”

However Mrs Nyanchama says there are indications that the disease can be associated with certain types of maize seed. According to the farmer, the disease affected the 614 maize seed variety but not the 6213, as was evident in farms neighbouring hers.

The government told a group of affected farmers in Bomet to burn the maize plants and not feed them to animals because the disease survives in seeds and other parts of the plant.

There has been little farmer education, even as the government admits  that the problem also exists in Nakuru, Naivasha, Kibwezi, Yatta, Embu, and Rumuruti, according to Mr David Nyameino, the head of the Kenya Cereal Growers Association.

“The farmers have been left to their own devices. All that the government has done is tell them not to re-incorporate it (the maize) into the soil and to ensure that the crop is destroyed,” says Mr Nyameino.

Dr Johnson Irungu, the director of crop management at the Ministry of Agriculture, acknowledges that the disease, which has spread beyond Bomet, where it was first identified, has caused farmers huge losses.

 “We empathise with the farmers because of the losses and we at the ministry are trying all that we can to contain the disease, which has affected the crop in what is always an early harvest area,” says Dr Irungu.

 

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