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Disease destroys North Rift maize crop

Wednesday August 17 2016

Mr Jeremiah Kipyego inspects maize on his farm in Uasin Gishu County in May.

Mr Jeremiah Kipyego inspects maize on his farm in Uasin Gishu County in May. Maize farmers in the region expressed fears of yield decline this season due to attack by head smut disease. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By BARNABAS BII
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An outbreak of a maize disease has left many farmers in the North Rift uncertain of their harvests putting the country’s food security at risk.

Growers yesterday expressed fears of serious yield decline this season due to the disease referred to as head smut, which is adding to the miseries bought about by distribution of sub-standard fertiliser that affected germination patterns of maize.

“We are worried that fungal disease will add to the miseries of high cost of production, rendering agriculture a non-profit investment,” said Mr Patrick Kemboi from Chepkumia, Nandi County.

The disease has been reported in parts of Uasin Gishu, Nandi  and Elgeyo Marakwet County.

Maize producers are now accusing the Kenya Seed Company of supplying them with poor seeds that has led to the outbreak of the fungal disease.

“I wonder why our crop has been attacked yet I planted certified seed from the company sourcing from the Kenya Seed Company,” said Mr Wilson Sang from Chembulet, Uasin Gishu County.

Growers have taken issue with the Kenya Seed management due to alleged failure in cracking down on traders dealing in sub-standard planting materials.

“Poor quality seed and a failure to crack down on fake seed being supplied by Kenya Seed’s accredited stockists,” said Mr Andrew Rotich, a maize farmer from Cherang’any.

Kenya Seed managing director Azariah Soi has, however denied responsibility for the outbreak of the fungal disease saying that studies conducted in conjunction with the Kenya Plant and Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) have shown that the head smut disease has nothing to do with seed.

PRODUCTION OF DISEASE RESISTANT SEEDS

“The head smut disease that has affected maize in Rift Valley is not as a result of seed distributed by our company,” said Mr Soi noting that the disease was in the soil.

He asked maize farmers to practice crop rotation to break the cycle of the fungal disease. “Our researchers are working closely with those from Kephis to come up with further remedies that can be employed by farmers in future including a possible production of seeds, which are disease-resistant,” Mr Soi said.

The fungal attack follows repeated outbreak of Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease that ravaged parts of the country last season, forcing some farmers to uproot the crop.

“The recurrence of MLN disease and attack of the crop by head smut is a serious challenge to maize cultivation,” said Mr Isaac Kibogy from Sergoit, Uasin Gishu County.

Farmers have been asked to implement crop rotation to break the cycle of the disease that damaged over 260,000 hectares of maize valued at Sh2 billion in Rift Valley last season.

“Feeding the plants to cattle is not appropriate because the fungus which cannot be digested is passed out through dung and later reproduces posing threat to crops again,” said Mr Soi.

Maize production in Rift Valley dropped from 21 million bags to 16 million bags last season due to erratic rainfall pattern and repeated outbreak of MLN disease.