International


Viral Disease Hits Maize in Kenya's South Rift

Date Posted: June 6, 2012

The disease affected more than 150,000 farmers, with agriculture officers warning of reduced harvests. The government has identified a resistant variety.

Nairobi, Kenya (3 June 2012 )AllAfrica) -- Researchers and scientists have identified the strange disease which has destroyed thousands of acres of maize crops in South Rift as maize lethal necrotic.

Scientists from Kenya Agriculture Research Institute have said the disease is a viral infection made up of two viruses and is new in the country but has been reported in other parts of the world. Anne Wangai a researcher with Kari said the disease is a combination of maize chlorotic mottle virus and sugarcane mosaic virus. She said tests conducted on affected maize samples collected from the region positively identified the two viruses.

Dr. Wangai said the disease is spread by insects and wind from one plant to another. She said farmers from the affected regions should destroy their crops and plant alternative crops to curb further spread. The researcher also refuted claims that the disease is seed borne saying maize seed from Kenya Seed have been tested and do not have any of the identified viruses.

Resistant Variet in Pipeline

Speaking during a field tour of the affected regions with Ministry of Agriculture officials led by Agriculture minister Sally Kosgey and PS Romano Kiome, Dr Wangai said a diagnosis for the disease is yet to be established. Dr Kosgey, however, said the government has come up with a maize variety which is resistant to the disease and will be availed to farmers to plant during the next season.

The Aldai MP said the resistant variety is still being verified by researchers. It has been put to test in Naivasha and is doing well. "Once the resistant seed variety is verified the government will ensure farmers get them at a subsidised price as alternative maize seeds to be planted," Dr Kosgey said. The minister urged farmers to implement agricultural practices that will step up the fight against the strange disease. "As farmers we should shun planting maize on our farms and plant other crops such as beans, Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes," Kosgey said.

She allayed fears that the outbreak will affect food security in the region saying the government has put in place measures to provide an alternative source of food for the affected region. Dr Kosgey was non-committal whether the government will compensate farmers whose crops have been ravaged by the disease. Home Affairs assistant minister and Bomet MP Beatrice Kones who hosted them at Longisa division in Bomet district said agriculture extension officers should take up the challenge to encourage farmers to diversify farming activities.

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