Efforts towards saving maize farmers $300million yield loss caused by MLN Disease

By Evelyn Situma

Five years ago when the first case of Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) in Africa was reported in the lower parts of Longisa, Bomet County,  seed companies and seed out-growers in Kenya were a worried lot.

They watched in disbelief as the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) enforced the destruction of their infected maize fields.

Dr. Sylvester Oikeh, a scientist at African Agricultural Technology Foundation at MLN evaluation trial site in Babati, Tanzania in 2016. The crop on the right is the MLN tolerant maize variety developed by Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project. PHOTO/CIMMYT

Dr. Sylvester Oikeh, a scientist at African Agricultural Technology Foundation at MLN evaluation trial site in Babati, Tanzania in 2016. The crop on the right is the MLN tolerant maize variety developed by Water Efficient Maize for Africa Project. PHOTO/CIMMYT

According to Erick Tegei, the Quality Assurance Manager at Kenya Seed Company, KEPHIS rejected 92 acres (equivalent of 37 hectare) from being processed further as seed.

Samuel Angwenyi, Coordinator for the MLN Management Project at the Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) also confirms that “seed companies were severely affected by MLN between 2012 and 2016. For instance, in 2012, over 26,000 hectare of land was affected resulting to the loss of 1.4 million bags of maize (126,000mt) valued at $52 million and 78,000 hectare in 2014.”

According to the 2014 survey on MLND by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization about 78,000 hectare of maize crop was affected by MLN leading to loss of over 11 million bags equivalent of $330 million.

In the quest to curb the spread of this menace, AATF is supporting the commercial seed sector in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia in production of clean maize seed that is not infected with maize chlorotic mottle virus (MCMV). This work is being carried out in collaboration with Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) through the USAID-MLN Diagnostics and Management Project. The Project is also promoting use of certified seeds by farmers in these countries.

To achieve this goal, these institutions have developed a modus operandi on control of MLND through numerous consultative meetings with seed sector stakeholders in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia.

The Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are condensed in a checklist for use by farmers, seed companies, breeders from National Agricultural Research Systems and seed out-growers to ensure MLN control and management in the farms.

The14-step SOP checklists include general field sanitation, regular scouting of MLND symptoms and destruction of symptomatic crops, monitoring and control of insect vectors and sampling of suspect plants for diagnostic testing. Farmers are also advised to properly dry seeds to a moisture content of 12–13 per cent before storage, shipping and/or planting among others.

These management practices are expected to save farmers from the anguish and yield loses caused by the disease.

AATF and its implementing partners are committed to ensure that farmers, breeders and seed companies put the management procedures into practice through constant monitoring and awareness creation activities.

“MLN is a communal challenge that should be tackled at several fronts. There is no silver bullet to tackling MLN, thus synergistic effort from all seed industry players is required,” concluded Angwenyi.

MLND is a maize viral disease caused by the co-infection of Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus (MCMV) and any of the Potyviruses infecting cereals, especially Sugarcane Mosaic Virus (SCMV). It causes yield loses of up to 100 per cent and is a threat to food security in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and all the other endemic countries.

The disease was reported in Kenya in September 2011, and later in Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, The Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and Ethiopia by 2014. It is a major limitation in maize production in the Eastern and Central Africa.

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