I have been growing maize as cash crop for the last four years. Since I live in the city, my mother, who lives in the countryside, manages the farm and takes care of things when I am not around. She recently called me with devastating news. The Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease that is destroying crops in most parts of Kenya had been reported in our place.The Disease results when the Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus combines with any other virus.
For as long as I can remember, we have always practiced mixed farming. We would plant maize and beans.I come from Central Kenya, a really cool place with good weather for the two. The cold however makes the maize mature slowly and we therefore have only one maize season in a year. Here are the activities we carry out and the order in which we do it.We plough and prepare the land for planting in before March. Planting is done in April. We weed the first time between May and June. We weed the second time between July and August.Topdressing is carried out in August. Beans are Harvested in Late August-Early September. The maize is normally green and ready in October. We harvest, thrush, dry and store the maize in December.For the last two years, the beans did so badly that we decided to leave them out this year. What this means is that there is no diversification and all our hopes lie with the maize crop.
Preventing the Spread
The first thing that came to my mind was that we needed to prevent the spread as soon as we could. And since it is spread by tiny insects, it is important to ensure that the farms are clean and free of weeds. Any weeds could act as hiding places for the disease carrying insects.The second thing is to ensure that the cop is as strong as can be. This will ensure that it has the necessary immunity required to withstand the infection. For the maize to be strong and healthy, top dressing is necessary. We were therefore forced to apply top dressing more than a month earlier than we normally do.Being vigilante is the third point that should be taken very seriously. It is good to keep checking the crop to spot any plant that has already contracted the disease. The plant should then be burnt, or buried very deep in the ground to make sure that the virus does not infect the neighboring crops.Applying pesticide is another measure that can be taken immediately. This kills the insects that carry Lethal Necrosis thus reducing the chances that the neighboring farms are affected.In some serious cases, a farmer can decide to uproot and burn all his crops to protect those of his neighbors .
After telling my mum what needed to be done, we came up with a program of what needed to be done and the order in which it would be done. The fields were clean having just been weeded and we did not need to do more as far as that was concerned.She told me that there were no signs of insects. Since you can never be too sure, I advised her that we should still go ahead and apply pesticide. This was done last week.We normally top-dress in August but this year we'll have to do it early. Plans are already underway for this.Scouting for infected plants is done every day.
Whatever happens this year, the scare has been enough to convince me to plant something else next year. I will be planting potatoes since they also do very well in the central Kenya's soil and climate.Potatoes are a good choice because unlike the maize, they mature faster. You are able to harvest three times an year while in the case of the maize, we only have one season a year.
Resistant Maize Variety
To deal with the disease, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute(KARI) has introduced a maize variety that is resistant to the Maize Lethal Necrosis disease.