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
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.