Arusha. Agricultural scientists and other experts from across Africa are meeting in Nairobi today to discuss the threat posed by a maize disease to food security on the continent.
Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) is reported to have caused losses worth millions of dollars for farmers and seed companies mostly in eastern Africa, including Tanzania and the meeting will assess how to curb it. “It is also affecting food consumers since farmers have no maize crop to release to the market,” said Dr Agnes Kalibata, president of Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra).
The rapid spread of the disease in the region since 2012 has been a major concern for scientists,regulators and maize seed companies, with MLND-free seeds seen as a possible solution to the crisis. Tanzania is likely to be represented by a delegation of experts from the Arusha-based Selian Agricultural Research Institute (Sari) which is the lead local research institution spearheading the fight against the disease.
A senior research officer attached to the institute, Mr Jeremiah Sembosye, told The Citizen here yesterday that MLND was still a threat to food security in Arusha, Manyara and Kilimanjaro.
“In Kilimanjaro only Rombo District is safe while in Arusha and Manyara the worst hit districts are Arumeru West and Babati respectively,” he said, adding that the situation has not improved much since 2013. He could not explain the stage reached by breeders from Tanzania and Kenya in coming up with maize varieties which are resistant to the disease. Trials to get the new breed have been going on in the two countries with the involvement of Sari and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) but scientific experts have hinted that it can take much longer.
Development of disease-resistant maize varieties was one of the strategies mulled by experts when the mysterious disease struck in the two countries, wreacking havoc on maize fields. Other strategies were to impose by-laws or quarantines in areas critically affected by the viral disease which was first detected in Tanzania in August 2012 and Kenya in 2011.
Also involved in the new search for new varieties of maize resistant to the virus is the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre.
The virus normally attacks maize at a ripening stage. It is mainly spread through the seeds athough there has been unverified claims that it is also spread through other means.