Kenyan Maize Faces Lethal Disease
Kenyan Agriculture suffers in wake of spreading maize disease
Farmers in Kenya are facing difficulty and anxiety concerning growing new crops after a season of diseased soil affected their maize fields. This disease first appeared in 2011, when crop sources suffered a huge undertaking in eastern Africa. Maize is known as a staple food, placeholder for social standing, and economic growth factor on African farms.
The staple crop and form of food in many parts of Africa, maize was infected by two various different corn-related diseases in the soil, the end product being necrosis. This disease can leaves crop yields barren, but mostly leaves husks of maize infertile. However, the largest problem that farmers face is that these diseases are hard to identify visually
While the government is trying to encourage farmers to plant new crops for the season, farmers are reluctant to comply. The Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture Felix Koskei spoke at a meeting in Nairobi’s Kenyatta International Conference Center saying to the press, “I interviewed one farmer in Narok who told me that since he was born, he has been growing maize. And even if there’s a problem, the farmer told me, he will have to plant maize so that people know he planted maize.” With anxiety ridden farmers and a wary government, new soil is said to hopefully being distributed to farmers throughout Africa for the next planting season.
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Breaking Ground: Scientist L.M. Suresh uses new technology to fight maize lethal necrosis disease in eastern Africa
EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – Maize lethal necrosis (MLN) disease is putting maize production at risk in eastern Africa, escalating food insecurity in the region.
First reported in Kenya in 2011, it has subsequently spread rapidly to neighboring countries and has now been confirmed in six eastern African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
The disease, caused by a combination of the maize chlorotic mottle virus (MCMV) and sugarcane mosaic virus (SCMV), causes irreversible damage that kills maize plants before they can grow and yield grain. If a maize field is infected early in the cropping cycle, total yield losses may occur.
Scientist L.M. Suresh of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) plays a central role in efforts to keep the disease in check. He contributes significantly to the screening of maize germplasm against MLN/MCMV, and to the identification of maize hybrids with tolerance/resistance to the disease.
In 2013, CIMMYT and the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization established an MLN screening facility in Naivasha, Kenya, northwest of the capital Nairobi. The center serves as a centralized platform for screening maize germplasm under artificial inoculation from CIMMYT as well as public and private sector partners.
Suresh joined CIMMYT in 2015 as maize pathologist for sub-Saharan Africa. He is also manager of the MLN screening facility. As almost all of the commercial maize varieties currently grown in eastern Africa are susceptible to MLN, it is crucial to identify and develop germplasm with tolerance/resistance to the disease.
His work involves identifying sources of resistance to MLN and its component viruses MCMV and SCMV, and he works closely with other scientists on the genetic basis of MLN resistance. In addition, he contributes to the identification of elite maize hybrids that offer tolerance/resistance to MLN.
The use of advanced phenotyping technology makes it possible to quickly make physical observations of the plants on a large scale without painstaking manual scoring.
Another major component of Suresh’s work focuses on epidemiological factors related to MLN disease transmission, particularly seed transmission of MLN-causing viruses.
While focusing on MLN, he also works on other foliar – or leaf – diseases that are a threat to maize. As manager of the MLN screening facility, Suresh is responsible for the screening and indexing of about 84,000 rows of maize trials each year in three to four planting cycles at the Naivasha facility.
As of 2016, nearly 100,000 germplasm entries have been screened against MLN. To date, nine first generation MLN-tolerant elite maize hybrids have been released in East Africa. Several second-generation, CIMMYT-derived, MLN-resistant hybrids are currently being tested under national performance trials in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Born in Madasuru-Lingadahalli, a rural village in southern India, Suresh grew up on a farm where he worked in the fields during school holidays helping with weeding, picking areca nuts and harvesting.
In the 1970s and 1980s, his father was recognized by the State Department of Agriculture as a “progressive farmer” for undertaking various innovative approaches to increase rice paddy yields. However, the family continued to face several challenges, including low yielding varieties, diseases, pests, water scarcity and volatile prices.
To try and overcome some of these hardships, Suresh decided to further his education in agriculture.
“I believe that a deeper knowledge of science might offer alternatives, and that we should explore these options to help smallholder farmers like my father get better yields without increasing costs,” Suresh said. “My family always supported me to pursue higher education in the field of agriculture.”
Suresh earned undergraduate and master’s degrees at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore. During that time, Professor and emeritus scientist Varagur Ganesan Malathi from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute was his mentor and guide, also supervising him while he completed his Ph.D. at Kuvempu University in Karnataka.
Before joining CIMMYT, Suresh worked for 19 years at seed companies, including 14 years for Monsanto in India, where he led a team of plant health scientists focusing on diseases in vegetables. Additionally, he supported teams working on maize and cotton to harmonize various disease screening protocols.
“Working in agriculture gives me the best opportunity to contribute to efforts to help smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods,” Suresh said. “CIMMYT is a place full of scientific rigor and experts who work collaboratively with partners and thus bring impact. A major disease like MLN brings researchers from various organizations and institutions from different parts of the world together to accelerate efforts to not only understand the disease and establish effective surveillance, but also to engage stakeholders to commercially scale up disease-resistant hybrids developed by CIMMYT.”
The MLN web information portal, to which Suresh contributes, provides comprehensive information on various initiatives to tackle the MLN challenge. This website and information management system was developed with the objective of providing a one-stop resource for all the relevant information on MLN to interested stakeholders.
Nuru Kenya’s Response to Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease: 2013 Long Rains Season in Review
Nuru Kenya farmers regularly face and overcome numerous challenges to crop production to get a good harvest: inconsistent weather, poor infrastructure, inaccessibility, and crop disease, to name just a few. In the 2013 long rains season a new threat, Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND), was detected in Kuria West. MLND is a crop disease that infects and kills maize (corn). Nuru launched campaigns to prevent, mitigate, and stamp out the MLND threat. The result was the successful prevention of MLND spread 98.4% of farmers kept their maize plots free of MLND. Confronting this challenge was a collaborative effort including Nuru’s investors, farmers, Nuru Kenya and Nuru International staff, and partner organizations.
MLND first surfaced in Kenya in 2011 and since spread to Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. MLND occurs when Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus combines with other Potyviruses infecting cereal crops. MLND produces a rapid synergistic reaction that severely damages or kills infected plants. If the infected crops are left untended, the virus continues to spread to nearby farms via insect vectors. These pests are tiny and spread so quickly that this disease has the potential to cause widespread devastation to maize crops. MLND poses a serious threat to rural livelihoods and food security.
In March 2013, the initial four cases of MLND were confirmed in Kuria West. Through quick action, the disease was kept at bay. Near the season’s end in July, the total cases of MLND numbered 87, or 1.6% of Nuru farmers. The affected farmers were offered extension support and assistance. The other 98.4% of Nuru farmers were unaffected by MLND. Compare this to other areas of Kenya where uncontrolled MLND spread has destroyed upwards of 90% of maize crops. Nuru’s efforts to control MLND proved highly successful in largely preventing or mitigating the crop disease.
I credit this success in large part to the people who make Nuru’s programs happen.
Supporters and investors of Nuru International’s work provided the seed funding to launch and maintain programs in Kenya. And when Nuru had the need to fund the fight against MLND in Kenya, donors quickly stepped up. Thank you for supporting Nuru in times of plenty and of need.
In Kuria West, a great deal of the success of the MLND campaign is due to Nuru Kenya farmers. Farmers were active in participating in trainings and implementing best practices. Our 5,500 farmers spent many extra hours in their fields weeding vigilantly to head off the spread of MLND, inspecting their crops to detect disease early, and reporting disease where they saw it. The few farmers whose crops were infected duly uprooted and destroyed the crop, accepting that their loss would stop the disease from spreading to their neighbor. Thank you, farmers of Kuria West, for the community-driven effort and tireless dedication.
Nuru Kenya staff drove operations in the field with local leadership, expertise, and a whole lot of hard work. Field crews were active in detecting disease, rapidly destroyed any infected crops and eliminated pest populations in the surrounding area. The staff also trained farmers with targeted and repeat messaging. The Agriculture Program staff have been monitoring MLND, contingency planning, and researching solutions on an ongoing basis. Thank you Nuru Kenya staff for being on the front lines of keeping the disease at bay.
The fight against MLND became more than a problem for just the Agriculture Program in Kenya to handle staff from other programs became a part of the solution. At various junctures, Social Marketing, Social Enterprise, Finance, Monitoring and Evaluation, and upper management including Jake Harriman played a part in the fight against MLND. Thank you Nuru International staff for your tireless work in support of our farmers.
Lastly, and importantly, I want to recognize the critical contributions made by agriculture experts, research institutes and seed companies on MLND. Specifically, One Acre Fund, Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), local government, and Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture are just a few essential partners in Nuru’s fight against MLND and, ultimately, against hunger. Thank you for making and sharing your substantial contributions to the science behind MLND.
I could end this post by saying that the future of protecting maize crops from MLND lies in the development of seed stock that isn’t susceptible to MLND in rotating crops to break the disease cycle in diversifying crops outside of maize in crop insurance that removes risk from Nuru and our farmers or in cultural or agronomic practices that eliminate MLND from maize fields. But the real future of the Agriculture Program’s mission of eliminating episodic hunger is the people: our supporters, our farmers, the local Kenyan staff, our international staff, and the dedicated folks at partner organizations. Thanks to all of you who helped prevent or mitigate MLND this year, and for your continued support in the future.
About Matt Lineal
Chief Program Officer — Matt received his BA in Government and Spanish from Lawrence University and a MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University, and began his international service career in rural Honduras, first as a Peace Corps Volunteer and later with The Nature Conservancy. Over several years punctuated by severe challenges for Hondurans, his experiences were eye opening as to how people navigate the complexities of rural life. Matt was drawn to Nuru International in 2011 with the resolve to take on tough challenges and has been humbled and amazed to be part of the transformational impact of local leaders. As Nuru’s Chief Program Officer, Matt continues to promote the agency of rural communities as the foundation of meaningful positive change.
Deadly Maize Disease Threatens Food Supplies in Kenya
Officials in Kenya are attempting to deal with a deadly disease attacking maize crops. Some Kenyan farmers say the disease has reduced crop production by as much as sixty percent.
Last September, farmers in Bomet reported that a disease was destroying their maize or corn. The disease is called "maize lethal necrosis." It makes the plant turn yellow and dry up. By January, researchers found that the disease was spreading across the country's south and into central and eastern Kenya.
Paul Omanga is a crop production officer with the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. He says a study in July found that maize lethal necrosis had affected more than sixty-four thousand hectares. Up to eighty percent of the crop was ruined. The FAO official warned that if the disease is not controlled, it would have a major effect on maize production in Kenya.
Muo Kasina is a researcher with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute. He is working with others to fight the disease. But he says there is no known way to treat it.
KASINA: "The problem is we do not have the experience at all with this disease in Kenya. So for me, I really have no idea at all what I expect to see in the future."
Researchers are investigating whether maize lethal necrosis is spread by insects or in seeds. When they know that, they may be better able to fight it.
The FAO's Paul Omanga says he and others are telling farmers about the importance of crop rotation. But he says farmers must take more extreme action if they suspect the disease has infected their crops.
PAUL OMANGA: "Another one is ensuring that, in affected fields, you destroy all the plants. You can even burn them or make fodder for livestock. The stems, the leaves, you make fodder for livestock. But you should not leave those affected plants to stay in the field because the virus will remain in that to infect another crop."
Paul Omanga says he is concerned about Kenya's food stability.
OMANGA: "This is causing some concern because maize is the staple food and any threat to maize production is a threat to food security in Kenya."
America's Agency for International Development says the poorest Kenyans spend twenty-eight percent of what they earn on maize.
Corn and climate: The story from Kenya
The current drought facing the U.S. should send down jitters among net food importers worldwide as the price of major grain crops is set to rise dramatically. The drought can be seen as a result of climate change that has led to unpredictable weather patterns the world over.
Farmers in Kenya continue to face the challenges of unpredictable weather patterns that either bring too much or insufficient rain and extreme weather conditions. The situation has been worsened by the loss of local and traditional seed varieties that are more resilient to dry weather.
Women, have since time immemorial been the custodians of seeds in Africa. They bred, selected, sorted and stored seeds for different seasons and ceremonies. They understood their environment to the extent that they could read nature signs and predict what the next season would bring. That is how communities would always be prepared for droughts and would save sufficient food to take them through hard times.
Even with women as custodians of seed, men too had their role in ensuring food security for their families. Some crops like yams were crops tended to by men. I remember going to the village as a young child and grandma would ask grandpa to dig up some yams for us to carry back to the city. One time I asked grandma why she could not dig up the yams herself and she responded that that was the work of men and a crop tended to by grandpa. This remains vivid in my memory, almost twenty years after grandma passed on from throat cancer.
Sometimes I ask myself why grandma got throat cancer yet she lived a healthy life eating grains, vegetables and fruits from her farm? The more I think about it, I remember how she was so proud when her eldest son planted coffee bushes on her farm, this was the new cash crop. But did it bring all blessings? No, I remember seeing grandpa spray the coffee bushes with chemicals yes one was "malathion." Not much protection was used and often when it rained, the chemical flowed to the rest of the farm. Maybe, this was what led to her getting throat cancer.
Kenya’s staple crop, maize (corn) has been affected by a strange disease, suspected to be Maize Lethal Necrosis, affecting thousands of acres. This is cause of worry given that we no longer maintain sufficient grain reserves to even last the country six months. The government is scrambling to buy up new reserves now, but the situation is quite unstable.
In 2011, there were reports in the media that Kenya was exporting its maize crop to South Sudan even when the country did not have sufficient stocks in place. A consequence of this was the country was again forced to import maize from South Africa, which produces about 70 percent genetically modified (GMO) maize. This was the same case in 2010 when GMO maize was imported from the U.S. and South Africa. Civil society groups under the umbrella of the Kenya Biodiversity Coalition (KBioC) raised objection to the importation of GMOs when the country had not put the required regulations in place, but to date none of their concerns have been responded to. We hope this may change with the establishment of the National Biosafety Authority (NBA) in 2011. The NBA now becomes the regulatory agency responsible for the approval of testing, trials, importation, transit and labelling of GMOs in Kenya.
With all these challenges of drought in the face of climate change, maize disease, the push by the biotechnology industry for the acceptance of GMOs in Africa and the increasing grain food prices, one wonders often what will happen to the small scale Kenyan farmers trying to make ends meet. The farmers have been encouraged to abandon their local and traditional seed varieties for ‘improved seed varieties’ that include hybrids. Every season, the farmer must buy the hybrids to ensure sufficient production but is sometimes let down by unpredictable weather patterns.
The overdependence on maize as a staple and its prioritization by the government has not helped much. There are other grains and pulses that can be promoted and which actually perfume better in drier areas. These grains include millet, sorghum, finger millet and pulses like green grams, lentils that can help in ensuring food security.
Maize is a difficult crop, a slight drop in moisture, temperature, lack of inputs often leads to its failure. A recent study links maize to the spread of malaria in Ethiopia yet we keep on prioritizing it as a food security crop.
Even in the midst of all these challenges related to food, production and the rising prices of commodities, many false solutions continue being manufactured for Africa. Apart from the promotion of GMOs, farmers in Western Kenya and Nyanza are now having to deal with a new project on trade in soil carbon. The Kenya Agriculture Soil carbon project promises farmer groups monetary gains if they put in place sustainable agricultural practices like the use of manure, composting and reforestation. While the practices being promoted should increase food production, a lot of emphasis has been put in efforts to monitor soil carbon sequestration. At the end of the day, though, a lot of the money that might be generated will go to pay consultants to ensure that the soil carbon is actually sequestered.
As farmer Patrick Magana from Kombewa in Kisumu asked: "With trees you can count them and calculate the carbon using a formula, but, how do you calculate soil carbon?"
And even in this project on climate change, farmers are being told to grow more maize. We need solutions that help farmers cope with unpredictable weather, solutions that build on the traditions of saving seeds and reading nature, and consider crops that really do perform under these unpredictable conditions.
Anne Maina is the advocacy coordinator at the African Biodiversity Network, based in Nairobi.
Africa to combat maize lethal necrosis with adoption of resistant seed varieties
AFRICA – Maize is one of the most important staple cereal crops in Africa, occupying approximately 24% of farmland in the region with an average yield of around 2 tons/hectare/year.
However, diseases like maize lethal necrosis (MLN) have hampered production causing major losses to farmers and threaten food security.
The first reported outbreak of MLN was in Bomet County, Kenya in 2011 that threw the maize sector into a panic as no one understood the disease.
The disease caused up to 100% yield loss as nearly all elite commercial maize varieties on the market at the time were susceptible, whether under natural of artificial conditions.
This called for researchers and scientists to come together and rake their brains in pursuit to find a solution to the catastrophe.
In 2012, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) partnered with KALRO, national plant protection organizations and commercial seed companies on a multi-stakeholder, multi-disciplinary efforts to curb MLN’s spread across sub-Saharan Africa.
Other players that joined the bandwagon include the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), non-government organizations such as AGRA and AATF, and advanced research institutions in the United States and Europe.
To efficiently undertake the research, CIMMYT established an MLN screening facility in Naivasha in 2013.
Eureka moment if fight against MLN
Researchers undertook studies on the behavior of the disease and developed an MLN-severity scale, ranging from 1 to 9, to compare varieties’ resistance or susceptibility to the disease. A score of 1 represents a highly resistant variety with no visible symptoms of the disease, while a score of 9 signifies extreme susceptibility.
Trials at this facility coupled with evaluations under accelerated National Performance Trials (NPTs) for varietal release and commercialization in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda led to a eureka moment.
Between 2013 and 2014, CIMMYT breeders has developed second-generation MLN-resistant hybrids which were superior.
This led to the release of several hybrids, especially in Kenya, over the course of a five-year period starting in 2013 and were earmarked for commercialization in East Africa beginning in 2020.
To this end, scientists are calling for accelerated adoption of new hybrid maize varieties with resistance to MLN disease in sub-Saharan Africa.
“It is very important to adopt an integrated disease management approach, which encompasses extensive adoption of improved MLN-resistant maize varieties, especially second-generation.”B.M. PRASANNA – DIRECTOR OF THE GLOBAL MAIZE PROGRAM AT CIMMYT AND OF THE CGIAR RESEARCH PROGRAM ON MAIZE
According a new publication titled “Efforts toward containing the spread and impact of a devastating transboundary disease in sub-Saharan Africa”, a combination of recommended integrated pest management practices with the adoption these new varieties is an important step towards safeguarding smallholder farmers against this devastating viral disease.
“Due to its complex and multi-faceted nature, effectively combating the incidence, spread and adverse effects of MLN in Africa requires vigorous and well-coordinated efforts by multiple institutions,” said B.M. Prasanna, primary author of the report and director of the Global Maize Program at CIMMYT and of the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE).
Prasanna also warns that most commercial maize varieties being cultivated in eastern Africa are still MLN-susceptible. They also serve as “reservoirs” for MLN-causing viruses, especially the maize chlorotic mottle virus (MCMV), which combines with other viruses from the Potyviridae family to cause MLN.
“This is why it is very important to adopt an integrated disease management approach, which encompasses extensive adoption of improved MLN-resistant maize varieties, especially second-generation, not just in MLN-prevalent countries but also in the non-endemic ones in sub-Saharan Africa,” Prasanna noted.
Other than delivering important wins to the farmers, development of MLN-resistant varieties has also been beneficials to seed companies.
Today over 30 seed companies in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania are implementing standard operating procedures and checklists for MLN pathogen-free seed production along the seed value chain on a voluntary basis.
More advanced solutions developed
The last known outbreak of MLN was reported in 2014 in Ethiopia, marking an important break in the virus’s spread across the continent.
Up to that point, the virus had affected the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
However, much remains to be done to minimize the possibility of future outbreaks.
To keep up with the disease’s changing dynamics, CIMMYT and its partners are moving ahead with novel techniques to achieve MLN resistance more quickly and cheaply.
Some of these innovative techniques include genomic selection, molecular markers, marker-assisted backcrossing, and gene editing.
These techniques will be instrumental in developing elite hybrids equipped not only to resist MLN but also to tolerate rapidly changing climatic conditions.
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SOUTH AFRICA - South African farmers have managed to produce 10.6 million tons of maize&hellip
SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa is set to regain its status as a net exporter&hellip
ZAMBIA – Zambia has signed grain export trade deals for 400,000 metric tonnes worth US$100&hellip
PASTTA bags more potatoes
For years, the main source of starch in many Kenyan households has been maize (corn). It accounts for about 65% of the population’s calorie intake**. Recently, however, there has been an acute shortage. Among the causes are new diseases and pests, such as Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease and Fall Armyworm.
“If we continue relying on maize there’ll be a crisis that will be difficult to manage”, predicts Stacy Mwangala, the PASTTA Deputy Chief of Party at SFSA. “Farmers should be encouraged to grow other nutritious crops that fill the gap. Potato is a candidate. But its potential to feed the nation is still largely untapped.”
One reason why potato is a good alternative to maize is its ease of use. This is important because Kenya’s urban population is growing rapidly. “Kenyans in big towns rely heavily on fast-cooking foods, to match the pace of daily life”, Stacy comments. “Potato is easy to prepare, cook and consume. That’s why PASTTA has been doing trials and field demonstrations with varieties suitable for the urban table, and for crisp-manufacturers.”
On potatoes, SFSA has a long-standing collaboration with Kisima Farm in Meru County. “The farm multiplies certified, disease-free seed, and has built a cold store”, explains Victoria Johnson-Chadwick. She is ad interim Head of our Seeds2B team, which is involved in PASTTA. “Local smallholders can therefore now access good potato seed at an affordable price. Kisima seed enables them to increase their productivity and income. With the extra money, farmers can educate their children, build better houses, install electricity and buy transport or equipment.”
Involvement in PASTTA has been good news around Kisima Farm. “We’ve raised our production of certified seed, thanks to purchasing tractors and harvesters”, says a farm representative. “As well as helping us serve more neighbouring smallholders, the increase in potato acreage has also resulted in more jobs on the farm. And processors benefit from better supply.”
At special Field Days, PASTTA staff educates smallholders on good agricultural practices. Topics include planting of certified seed and proper land use. Importantly, however, the farmers also witness the benefits on their own farms. “They see their production rise thanks to purchasing certified potato seed”, Stacy Mwangala reports. “Previously, they were planting only saved seed, which was often diseased. As a result, they were only getting about four tons per hectare. With new certified varieties, they are now growing 8-15 tons.” That is still some way off the varieties’ full potential of 25-30 tons per hectare. But additional new varieties and agronomic training should help raise yield further.
PASTTA is also helping potato-farming expand into areas traditionally dominated by pastoral cattle-grazing. For instance, trials in Samburu and Sultan Hamud have proved that potatoes can perform well in these regions. Farmers previously unfamiliar with the crop now have an alternative to depending entirely on increasingly risky pastoralism.
Interested in East African potato production? Watch our film.
PASTTA works on other crops as well. Here's a soybean story.
*PASTTA is the Partnership for Seed Technology Transfer in Africa between USAID and the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA). It primarily focuses on transferring seed-related technologies to smallholders, in order to increase their harvests and income.
**National Nutrition Action Plan 2012-2017, Ministry Of Public Health and Sanitation, 2012.
African farmers are being left behind, says Kenyan farm leader
I am a Kenyan small-scale farmer and a farmers’ leader. We grow cotton for food security. We also grow maize as our staple food crop. When the maize dries up because of bad weather we are left with cotton because it is a drought-tolerant crop. After harvesting cotton, we sell it and buy food for our families. When the weather is favorable, we harvest a lot of maize and cotton but only after a lot of pesticide applications to the growing plants.
The conventional cotton we grow is badly affected by cotton bollworms and if a farmer fails to apply pesticide, he either gets nothing or a very poor harvest. The maize varieties we grow are threatened by maize stem borers, fall armyworms, maize lethal necrosis and the pests that attack the crop in storage.
Genetically modified crops protect against these pests and diseases, but many African governments have put up barriers against adopting modern agricultural technologies.
Here comes the question: When will farmers in Kenya and Africa at large stop sharing their sweat and labor with plant pests and plant diseases when we know that there is a lasting solution in agricultural modern biotechnology?
Kenyan farmers, among many other African farmers, apart from South Africa and southern Sudan, have been left behind because of the barriers on genetically modified crops. It is the wish of the African farmers to enjoy the benefits of the modern agricultural biotechnology like any other farmer on the face of the earth.
The voice of the farmer should be honored.
Daniel Magondu is chairman of the Society for Biotechnology Farming of Kenya (SOBIFAK), which represents farmers from all regions of Kenya. “Our vision is to be the leading producer of food, feed and fiber in Kenya. Our mission is to achieve that vision by adopting modern agricultural biotechnologies, which are the solution to the world food crisis.”
Avocados Reap Rewards in Kenya While Staple Corn Withers
Peter Karanja at a seedbed that has recently grafted seedlings. He has been licensed by the Horticultural Crops Development Authoreity (HCDA) to graft the seedlings and distribute to farmers. Credit: Robert Kibet/IPS
NJORO, Kenya , Dec 3 2015 (IPS) - Maize farming in Kenya is becoming a loss making venture and farmers who depended on the crop’s popularity for years are forced to abandon it for safer and more money making opportunities.
Six decades ago, said Peter Karanja,44, his father could harvest more than 30 bags of maize per acre of land. “Now with a family to fend for, in the same size of land today, I rarely exceed 15 bags per maize harvesting season,” Karanja told IPS.
This East African nation and surrounding countries have steadily relied on maize for years. But this can be a disaster. Climate change, compounded by maize viral disease, the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MNLD), hit hard at farmers, who depend mostly on maize production.
A resident of Njoro, one of the agriculturally rich areas of Kenya’s Rift Valley highlands, Karanja has joined thousands of farmers who are considering switching from farming the nation’s lead staple maize, known in Kenya as ugali, to other climate-resilient crops.
Karanja worked as a farm manager in Thika, where he learned the art of grafting avocado tree seedlings.
“When my employer introduced avocado farming to his farm, he tasked me with planting. I would later be taken through training on how to graft avocados, after his employer was duped to purchase variety contrary to the Hass variety which he wanted,” says Karanja.
The Hass avocado is a generous bearer of fruits, a semi-spreading tree requiring at least 40 by 40 feet planting distance at maturity.
This warty, medium sized, roundish fruit that turns purple at full maturity, has a tough, pebbly skin, an impressive shelf life and attracts the market.
Karanja later quit his farm managerial job went back home and was greeted by the deadly effect of the maize viral disease that turned Kenya’s South Rift region into a hunger zone. He tried potato farming, but this is a venture that is prone to exploitation by middlemen.
“At the moment, I have about 400 fully grown Hass avocado trees on my farm,” says Karanja, whose recent first harvest was 3,000 fruit that fetched him about 198 dollars.
About half a kilometer from Karanja’s homestead is Rusiru farm where Karanja planted Hass avocado trees. This is a service offered by Karanja to the farm owner.
Perminus Mwangi, the farm manager says the farms used to be occupied with maize harvesting but with minimal outcome. Instead avocados look like a safer bet.
“Last week, we harvested 6,300 fruit, even those considered rejects each fetched 15 Kenyan Shillings, amounting to 94,500 Kenyan Shillings. (886 dollars) when we sold to a ready market at the coastal city of Mombasa.” he told IPS.
Late last year, the Kenyan government in collaboration with the World Bank planned to set aside 1.4 million dollars to tame the maize viral disease that ravaged some 18,000 hectares of maize farms.
A 2012 estimate by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) now the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) indicates that 26,000 hectares under maize were affected by the disease, leading to an estimated loss of 650,000 bags valued at 18.7 million dollars.
Rusiru farm’s three parcels of land are now home to 1,038 Hass avocado trees and Mwangi says that this may just be the answer to the deadly maize viral disease which has cost farmers.
With the African Union (AU) having declared 2014 as ‘The Year of Agriculture’ still over 70 per cent of African households survive on subsistence farming. Agriculture remains a big contributor to the African economy accounting for over a fifth of the continent’s GDP.
Dr Johnson Irungu, director of crops at the Ministry of Agriculture supported efforts by the AU to intensify efforts of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) that targets reaching the goal of a viable 6 per cent average annual growth rate in agriculture by this year, 2015 measured over the past 12 years.
Augustin Wambo Yamdjeu, head of Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), a NEPAD agency expressed his concern at the rate in which extension services in the agricultural sector are diminishing.
“With national research institutions in many African countries working in isolation from the Ministry of Agriculture coupled with weak extension services to smallholder farmers, we have reason to worry about crucial information not reaching smallholder famers,” said Dr. Yamdjeu.
Mary Wanjiru, a victim of Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence, now residing in central Kenya says she reaps a lot from Hass variety farming.
“I planted 150 Hass variety in 2008 and they started fruiting in the fourth year. I harvest twice a year with each tree giving me an average of 60 fruits per season,” she said.
On average, given the statistics and market prices, she can more than double her money with avocado farming.
“In one hectare of maize farm, I rarely make 100,000 Kenyan Shillings after waiting for a whole year. Avocado farming has lifted me,” she told an interview with IPS.
Climatic conditions in most parts of Kenya are ideal for Hass variety farming, they are sensitive to wind, which can cause fruit drop and defoliation.
Although it attracts a ready market to Europe, the Kenyan avocado supply still suffers from around 15 per cent food loss at different stages of the avocado journey from farm to importer.
Nakuru County, home to Karanja, has this year witnessed a 50 per cent maize loss due to frost and erratic rainfall, with the county’s agriculture executive saying of the expected 2.7 million bags of maize, only 1.3 to 1.5 million bags are anticipated. This is a huge loss for a country so dependent on one staple.
Kenya is ranked as the sixth-largest avocado exporter to Europe, enjoying a competitive advantage over Peru, its main competitor in Europe, with the Kenyan Hass harvesting season extending later in the year than Peru’s granting Kenya a valuable window of opportunity.
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