Opinion and Analysis

Move to tackle lethal maize disease welcome

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Posted  Sunday, February 17  2013 at  14:38
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The government should be lauded for supplying farmers in the Rift Valley with seeds of indigenous crops that are capable of containing a viral disease in the plant.

Last season, the Maize Lethal Necrosis spread rapidly in the North Rift and destroyed a substantial portion of the harvest, leaving scores of farmers counting huge losses.

Maize production in the Rift Valley fell to 17 million bags last year from 21 million in 2011 as a result of the devastating disease.

We welcome the government’s move to supply the farmers with 70 tonnes of sorghum, finger millet, beans, green grams cowpeas and cassava, which are aimed at curbing the spread of the maize disease.

The government has supplied farmers in Bomet, Sotik and Narok districts with seeds worth Sh10.4 million to help them tackle the disease. It is heartening to note that the Agriculture ministry has realised the need to adopt orphan crops to tackle the spread of the disease.

As a result, the acreage under sorghum in the province has since increased from 9,960 hectares to 13,677 hectares. This also saw the production rise from 18,740 bags to 146,180 bags.

We also welcome the State’s plans to distribute the seeds of orphan crops to farmers in the arid and semi-arid areas of Kajiado, Turkana, West Pokot, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.

The ministry deserves accolades for heeding caution and moving fast to contain the disease. Farmers were worried that it was too long to wake up wake up to the fact that the disease was ravaging their maize crop.

Had the mitigating actions not been undertaken, shortage of the country’s staple diet would have become a reality due to the rapid spread of the disease. The disease destroys the maize cells and hampers growth of the plant.

Going forward, the government should ensure that its officials take such threats seriously. The ministry had earlier downplayed farmers’ fears despite the destruction.

The government should now roll out the distribution of orphan crops to other countries to ensure that the spread of the disease in the country is totally contained.

The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services must now intensify efforts to ensure that affected maize seeds are removed from the chain while the Kenya Seed Company should also hasten efforts to come up with a disease-resistant variety even as the programme to use indigenous crops as a solution is rolled out.