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Farmers in Kenya desperate as disease destroys maize for third year

By Metro Reporter

Maize farmers in various parts of Kenya have despaired as  the Lethal Necrosis Disease destroys their crops for the third consecutive year.

The farmers are losing hope in the crop since all their attempts to  contain the viral disease have failed.  When the disease started sometime in 2012, agricultural experts blamed it on a number of farming practices that include use of uncertified seeds and failure to rotate crops. The Ministry of Agriculture then noted there was widespread use of recycled or farm-saved maize seeds especially among small-scale farmers across Kenya, a practice that was fanning the disease.
   The ministry led efforts to contain the disease, with farmers being advised to uproot and burn affected
crops, use certified seeds and rotate crops. 
Many farmers have followed the advice since the outbreak of the virus but nothing seemed to be working, with the deadly disease continuing to ravage their crops every season. The necrosis disease is caused by a combination of maize chlorotic mottle virus and sugarcane mosaic virus. The disease, which affects all maize varieties, leads to withering of the crops and eventually death, especially as they are producing cobs. Kenya's breadbasket zones, where maize is the crop of choice, are the worst affected. The areas include Rift Valley, Western, Central, Eastern and Nyanza.
  "I have done everything possible to stop the disease but all my efforts have been in vain," Vincent Namwai, a farmer based in Kitale, Rift Valley, told Xinhua by phone on Tuesday. "If it is rotating crops or using certified seeds and fertilizer, I have done all that. I also uprooted affected crops and burnt them but all this has not worked." Options have run out for Namwai and many other farmers in the East African nation. "The disease first affected my crops in 2013. In 2012 when it first broke out, I was lucky but last year I barely harvested anything since a good number of crops on my 10 acres were destroyed," Namwai said. After destroying part of the maize and harvesting the rest, Namwai planted tomatoes
and cabbages, which did well, on part of the land as advised by agricultural officers. "I was confident that this year the disease will not affect my crops since I had followed every advice I had been told, but I was wrong," he said. More than half of his crops have been destroyed this season and the farmer is staring at huge losses.
 "I am starting to harvest next week but I am not sure I will not get 10 bags. Maize has been our main crop for years, but we now do not know whether to plant it anymore because the disease seems uncontrollable." Farmers who have been worst hit this season are those who planted after March. During this period, the rains disappeared for a while soon after planting.  "I will not continue planting maize for it to be destroyed," said Joshua Kavudi, who farms in western Kenya.
 The farmer is contemplating switching to growing fast-maturing crops in greenhouses. Western-based agricultural extension officer Bernard Moina said the Lethal Necrosis Disease has pushed them to the edge.  "We do not know what to tell farmers because all we have been preaching to them has not worked. It is embarrassing to visit farmers because you gave them advice but they have harvested losses." He noted that a good number of disease-resistant maize varieties released into the market recently have also been attacked, complicating the matter for farmers. "We are waiting for direction from the agriculture ministry, which is working with experts to find new ways to curb the disease," he said.

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