US$4 million project to control lethal maize disease

inspecting maize crops
Copyright: Sven Torfinn/Panos

Speed read

  • MLN causes 30-100 per cent of the loss of maize in farmers’ fields
  • A new, four-year project in East Africa aims to tackle the disease
  • It will boost the production and dissemination of MLN-resistant varieties

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[NAIROBI] A new project has been launched to control the spread of a lethal viral disease which affects maize yields and threatens food security in many Sub-Saharan Africa countries.
The project for tackling maize lethal necrosis (MLN), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was launched at a workshop in Kenya last month (10 November).
The US$4 million project’s primary operations will be carried out in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda where the disease is prevalent, according to Candace Buzzard, a director of agriculture for USAID, West Africa.

“We can take measures to curb the spread of MLN from endemic to non-endemic countries.” Boddupalli Prasanna, CIMMYT.”

Boddupalli Prasanna, CIMMYT


Scientists, policymakers, seed companies’ representatives and farmers gathered at the workshop organised by CGIAR’s International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to share knowledge on MLN.
The four-year CIMMYT-led initiative will be implemented in partnership with the Kenya-headquartered Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation.
Experts at the MLN Diagnostics and Management in Africa conference held in Kenya in May this year recommended strategies to prevent the spread of MLN, leading to the formation of the initiative.
According to the CIMMYT, the disease leads to loss of 30-100 per cent of the crop in farmers’ fields, and threatens regional trade.
“We can take measures to curb the spread of MLN from endemic to non-endemic countries,” CIMMYT director Boddupalli Prasanna told SciDev.Net.
Prasanna said the project aims to strengthen national plant protection systems to effectively detect, monitor and contain the spread of MLN, especially through seeds, while working with relevant sectors to produce and commercialise MLN-free seeds to farmers.
According to Kenya-based Stephen Mugo, CIMMYT’s regional representative for Africa, the development of low-cost diagnostic solutions and communication of important messages to farmers and seed companies will be important in managing MLN.
Mugo said that five MLN-tolerant maize seed varieties were released in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda last year and are expected on the market next year.
Buzzard added that the initiative is vital to ensuring food security in Africa, and that encouraging the private sector seed industry to adopt the latest technologies in agricultural research is critical to the project’s success.
MLN has spread extensively especially in Kenya and is still prevalent in maize-producing areas, said Eliud Kireger, director-general, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO).
Commending the initiative as timely, Kireger explained that although difficult to control, the spread of MLN has decreased due to researchers and farmers adopting management practices such as crop rotation, timely planting and avoiding the continuous growing of maize.

Kireger noted that harnessing the capabilities of stakeholders in the maize value chain to address MLN in Sub-Saharan Africa is necessary to find lasting solutions, adding: “This initiative will encourage the production and dissemination of MLN- resistant varieties, helping find practical solutions to managing MLN in the region.”
Susan Koech, a smallholder maize farmer from Bomet County in Kenya, tells SciDev.Net that she looks forward to the total eradication of MLN.
“I hope for a long-lasting solution because this disease has caused me huge losses, especially during the 2014 harvest season,” Koech notes, adding that maize is her family’s main source of income and food and that harvest losses threaten her children’s education.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.