By Evelyn Situma
African Agricultural Technology foundation has invested USD400, 000 to curtail the spread of Maize Lethal Necrosis disease in Eastern Africa.
The funds will be used to train companies in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia on production of Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) – free seed under a newly formed project, MLN Diagnostics and Management coordinated by CIMMYT and funded by the USAID.
So far, 22 seed companies and 550 out-growers in Kenya and Uganda have been trained on use of diagnostic kits for surveillance and harmonized MLN management checklists containing standard operating procedures for Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus (MCMV) free seed production under the project.
Eric Tegei, the Quality Assurance Manager at Kenya Seed Company, one of the beneficiaries, said the tools are helpful in streamlining operations. “If the industry does not get systematic and standardized scientific steps and operating procedures, decisions on control and management of MLN will be subjective.”
MLN disease has become one of the leading constraints to maize farming in the Eastern African region causing up to 100 per cent grain yield loses.
Until early 2016 — five years after the invasion of MLN in East Africa — most seed companies did not have specific formula for control or documented management approach for the disease.
In the first year of invasion, control of MLN was based on knowledge of seed production staff, which the companies relied on to make decisions on the situation — roguing of affected plants and communication with the regulator on the level of damage.
“The regulator’s role was to confirm the attack and issue directives on appropriate action,” said Tegei.
The Industry further adopted a policy on combating the disease which was implemented by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) — as a result, seed companies incurred losses through rejection of infected seed.
Additionally, lack of experienced personnel, knowledge on the disease and how to combat it; and unavailability of MLN diagnostic tools, resulted to more losses throwing the industry into panic.
In 2013, the government introduced PCR technique, an accurate DNA based laboratory testing tool, for MLN at KEPHIS- This was applied to maize seed on import and export.
Later in 2014, there was policy review mandating testing of all seed lots for the two MLN viruses — Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus (MCMV) and Sugarcane Mosaic Virus (SCMV).
Although it was a welcome move, MLN lab diagnostics testing at KEPHIS resulted to seed certification cost increase of over 13 per cent. “But it was necessary,” said Tegei.
Seed companies incurred losses from samples confirmed positive in the lab since it could not be sold to farmers as seed. For instance, Kenya Seed Company lost over 112,000 USD in 2015/2016 fiscal year from 35 affected lots.
By 2015, the industry approach was focused more on laboratory diagnostics. This entailed sampling of seed delivered from the field for processing and subjecting to PCR testing in the laboratory. Seed deliveries that test positive for any of MLN viruses is not processed further as seed.
In 2016, seed companies received technical support from CIMMYT and Crop Nutrition services Ltd for scouting for disease symptoms and rapid field diagnostic testing kits. But still there was need to standardize procedures and decisions on MLN control and management. AATF harmonized the procedures and is conducting training on MLN control checklist.
Seed companies admit the training is handy. They implore AATF to continue with partnerships and trainings to keep the industry abreast with new and cost effective tools for control of MLN disease.
“The crop diseases issues are dynamic given changing climatic patterns globally. The tools adopted now could therefore become ineffective going forward or expensive, thus it’s necessary to sustain the partnerships and trainings for continuous control,” said Tegei.
Charles Operemo, Production Manager at Fica Seed Company in Masindi, Uganda said the workshops and trainings on MLN – free seed production are beneficial as the use of the checklists would assist the seed out-growers to adhere to the practices.
Further trainings are planned in Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia.. Supplement trainings will continue throughout the year in the five countries. It will be coupled with farmer surveys during field days to promote use of clean certified seeds.