Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease in Kenya

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.

Maize farming

Mixed Farming

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 .

The Checklist

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.

Crop Rotation

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.

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