News / Africa

Deadly Maize Disease Threatens Kenya's Food Stability

A farmer gathers arid corn crops on his farm in Kwale, Kenya, January 27, 2009.
A farmer gathers arid corn crops on his farm in Kwale, Kenya, January 27, 2009.
Jill Craig
NAIROBI — Kenyan officials are scrambling to determine how to deal with a spreading deadly maize disease.  Fears are mounting as farmers report losing more than 60 percent of their usual yields.

Last September, farmers in Bomet, in the southern Rift Valley, reported that a disease was destroying their maize (corn). By January, researchers found the disease, "maize lethal necrosis" that makes the maize plant turn yellow and dry up, was spreading to other areas of the Rift Valley and into central and eastern Kenya.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization crop production officer Paul Omanga a survey conducted in July indicated more than 64,000 hectares were affected and up to 80 percent of the crop was ruined.

"So if this disease is not controlled, it will affect maize production in the country significantly," he said.

Kenya Agricultural Research Institute principal researcher Muo Kasina serves on the task force managing this problem.  He says farmers are suffering from plummeting yields.

"The disease itself is completely finishing the crops . You may get less than 40 percent yields.  So it is very devastating, as of now," he said.

Maize lethal necrosis is the result of the combination of maize chlorotic mottle virus and sugarcane mosaic virus.  Sugarcane mosaic virus has previously appeared in Kenya, but maize chlorotic mottle virus has not, according to researchers.

Kasina says there is no known precedent for treating the disease.

"The problem is we do not have experience at all with this disease in Kenya.  So, for me, I really have no idea at all what I expect to see in the future," he said.

Researchers are trying to determine whether the disease is seed-born or if it is transmitted by insects, before they can decide the best course of action.

In the meantime, Omanga says they are educating farmers about the importance of crop rotation.  But he says more extreme action must be taken if they suspect the disease is present.

"Another one is ensuring that in an affected field, you destroy all the plants," he said. "You either burn them or made fodder for livestock.  The stems, the leaves, you make fodder for livestock.  But you should not leave those affected plants to stay in the field because the virus will remain in that field to affect another crop."

Omanga says that national food stability is the overarching concern.

"This [is] causing some concern because maize is the staple food and any threat to maize production is a threat to food security in Kenya," he said. 

The U.S. Agency for International Development reports the lowest income quarter of the Kenyan population spends 28 percent of its income on maize.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs