Taming maize lethal necrosis at farm level

farmer stands among her maize crop
Copyright: Sven Torfinn/Panos

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[NAIROBI] Maize lethal necrosis (MLN) raised serious concerns in eastern Africa, especially in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, in early 2012. It still does.
And that precisely is why several organisations have teamed up to deal with this disturbing farming problem. The maize industry in eastern Africa, we gathered at a meeting recently, especially plant breeders, is under pressure to quickly replace the MLN-vulnerable varieties with elite MLN-resistant maize germplasm.
At a workshop in Kenya last month (12-14 May) on MLN diagnostics and management in Africa, how MLN can be managed at the farm level and experiences so far dominated the discussions.
During the three-day workshop, it came to our attention that MLN is a serious misfortune to food security in Sub-Saharan Africa if not properly managed and is negatively impacting small-scale farmers.

  • The daunting concerns we sought answers to;

  • Why should managing MLN at farm level be of great concern?
  • How can small-scale farmers contribute to tackling this menace?
  • How will small-scale farmers benefit after all?

Scientists from various organisations are working on a number of initiatives and management strategies to arrest MLN at farm level. The approaches seemed convincing on tackling this issue but with time.
First and foremost, scientists have introduced sale of clean seed and fertilisers on credit and have partnered with seed companies so as to achieve this. Farm training and educating farmers on brief hygiene concerning MLN have been initiated and farmers have also been encouraged to practice crop rotation.
Scientists also involve themselves in scouting of farms, temperature observation and field operations where they destroy all suspected plants infected by MLN. Moreover, they offer postharvest support to farmers.
Farmers are also given a chance to say what they have discovered and observed in their respective farms. All of these services are offered at doorstep, according to Erick Solomonson of One Acre Fund, an organisation with headquarters in the United States but is promoting the interest of small-scale farmers in western Kenya.
However, managing MLN at farm level is not easy; farmers encounter various challenges. Small-scale farmers lack equipment that can help them identify MLN. We learnt that farmers are not only less knowledgeable about MLN symptoms but also do not know what to do after their farms get infected by the lethal maize disease.

Also, the sporadic nature of the disease makes it difficult to have permanent seed sites and again the need to have new seed treatment in the region. The transmission of MLN through seeds occurs quickly.
In order to tackle MLN, at farm level, people must join hands and agree to work together in efforts involving stakeholders such as farmers and scientists. Concerted approach, we realised, is one of the promising options for tackling MLN.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.