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KENYAN MAIZE CROP FAILING…AND MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE FAILINGS…

Agriculture PS Romano Kiome

Last weeks depressing snapshot of the Kenyan Economy released by minister Wycliff Oparanya,(Higher food prices and job losses ahead) took a further downturn with todays news of a fungal disease blighting the maize crops in South Rift valley. The disease reportedly caused by the fungus Cephalosporium acremonium but described as Leaf Stripe* has already infected 40% of the harvest and is spreading rapidly.

The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) want the crops destroyed and the farmers compensated by the government. Meanwhile the minister for agriculture, Dr Romano Kiome, was, as of yesterday still undecided on what action to take. The confusion it seems comes from a conflict of information as to the nature of the disease, and Dr Kiome may well wait for further clarification from the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)

Last week in a delegated speech Dr Kiome said the disease could have been caused by a combination of pathogens but warned farmers that it was threatening their livelihoods as well as national food security.

The disease was first noticed in Bomet County in November, and has since spread to Nakuru, Naivasha, Kibwezi, Yatta, Embu and Rumuruti. The importance of Bomet to Kenya’s food security is that their maize traditionally hits the July and August markets when supplies are at the lowest.

Dr Kiome said a team comprising experts from Kephis, agrochemical firms, Egerton University, Kari and the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre was investigating the cause of the disease. But a source at the ministry headquarters said Kephis presented a complete report.“Maybe the PS wants to give other institutions a chance for their input or it could be a case of wanting to satisfy institutional rivalry among the organisations,” said the source who requested not to be named.

Meanwhile Dr Johnson Irungu director of crop management at the Ministry of Agriculture said “When you see the scientists giving conflicting information, you have to start digesting and that is why the ministry is advising farmers to apply good farming practices,”

So the warning messages to the farmers are clear…your livelihoods are threatened so err… practice good farm management….and by the way we are all sitting here in Nairobi studiously not making any decisions…

Talk about Nero “fiddling while Rome burns” the level of inactivity from the Ministry beggars belief. This problem has been know about for 6 months. The longer it goes on the further the

Planning minister Wycliffe Oparanya

infection, whatever it is, will spread, resulting in more lost crops, more food-insecurity and even higher prices. Its a good job Drs Kiome and Irungu  arn’t medical doctors..their patients would all have died whilst they asked for second, third, fourth, fifth…opinions!

Now back to last weeks Economic Survey which had already put the damper on the Kenyan economy. One of the policy interventions suggested was the provision of improved seeds and fertiliser to farmers to increase food output. A good call Mr Oparanya, says the Forum..Kenya’s going to need it!

And finally a prophetic sentiment again from Mr Oparanya: “We expect Kenyans to pull up their socks up and work harder”

We certainly do Mr Oparanya, particularly if those Kenyans work for the Ministry of Agriculture.

*Footnote from Seedquest.com for the scientifically minded:

KEPHIS team identifies Bomet disease

——————————————-

The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service [KEPHIS] has announced a breakthrough in the cause of a mysterious disease that has destroyed over 1000 acres [400 ha] of maize crop in Bomet county [Rift Valley province; see ProMED-mail post 20120117.0114] since last October [2011]. The disease became of concern to farmers, especially after conflicting diagnosis on its cause. KEPHIS have [now] identified the disease as leaf stripe of maize caused by a fungus called _Cephalosporium acremonium_ [see note below]. The pathogen is seed borne, but can also survive on maize plant debris and [become] soil borne. “The disease is widespread particularly on the earlier maize crop. Its impact on the younger crop is less,” says James Onsando, KEPHIS. Onsando says the disease starts with chlorosis and drying up of the upper leaves from the midrib and progressing to the margins. “The drying progresses downwards showing blighting of the leaves. In some cases, browning of the nodes was observed and in some cases excessive tillering,” he said. Within weeks the whole plant rots away as the disease spreads fast.

He says the disease has been exacerbated by drought, stem borer infestation, thrips damage, and maize streak virus. He has advised farmers in the affected areas to practise crop rotation for at least 2 to 3 seasons to reduce the disease level with non-grass crops like sweet potatoes. KEPHIS is conducting further research to develop management strategies for the disease.

<promed@promedmail.org>

[It appears that there has been some confusion in the report above:

the fungus _Sarocladium strictum_ (previously _Cephalosporium acremonium_, _Acremonium strictum_) has been reported to cause cephalosporium stalk, kernel, and ear rots as well as black bundle disease of maize. The pathogen also causes acremonium wilt of sorghum. Leaf stripe disease as well as late wilt of maize is caused by _Cephalosporium maydis_. _S. strictum_ appears to infect plants growing in unfavourable conditions, but details of its epidemiology remain uncertain. The fungus may not be a primary parasite and has been reported to produce compounds with toxic effects on host tissues. In China, _S. strictum_ has been reported to cause yield losses of up to 66 percent, depending on host cultivars, and a small number of resistant varieties were identified. In Africa, it has been reported as an important pathogen on several maize cultivars from Cameroon causing leaf chlorosis, leaf and stem necrosis, wilting and stunting of plants, as well as failure to produce kernels resulting in serious yield losses.The related _Hymenula cerealis_ (previously _Cephalosporiumgramineum_) causes leaf stripe of grassy species including a range of cereal crops. The leafhopper transmitted _Maize streak virus_ mentioned above (MSV; genus _Mastrevirus_) is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya. A number of MSV-resistant maize cultivars have been developed for use in the region.

President Kenyatta declared winner.

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