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Maize disease relief in sight?

By George Kebaso @Morarak

Five years since the first case of the deadly Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease was reported in Kenya in Bomet county, researchers say they are on the brink of a major breakthrough that could prove vital in containing its spread.

The scientists—operating from two confined field trial sites at Kiboko in Makueni county and Naivasha in Nakuru county—have expressed optimism they are on the verge of what they say could be a “short-term to medium-term solution” to containing the disease.

MLN is responsible for a sharp drop in maize yields with up to 100 per cent crop loss having been reported where it has been identified.

The scientists are hopeful, some 20 materials achieved over the last three years since they embarked on the journey to solve the MLN puzzle, will soon be submitted for national performance trials at Kenya Plant and Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) before being declared fit for release to farmers.

“In the short-term, we have concluded that, some hybrids showing certain levels of resistance at about 40-50 per cent will be out by the end of the year. We feel that farmers should start interacting with these materials,” International Maize and

Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) regional representative for Africa Dr Stephen Mugo told People Daily recently during a visit to the MLN screening facility in Naivasha.

The materials screened at the two sites were hybrids obtained from local seed production companies. Mugo said the materials contain a combination of resistant varieties that have good characteristics to ensure food security in the country.

He said they are far much better than what farmers are currently using. “MLN has to be fought from all fronts. We have seen progress using various strategies. We have successfully done it at Kiboko research station and in adjacent farms, where we have encouraged farmers to observe a maize-free period, and noticed that maize planted five kilometres apart have no MLN,” said Mugo.

Water Efficient Maize for Africa’s (Wema) national coordinator for Kenya Murenga Mwimali said research work started with 1,700 parent lines selected from hybrids already available in the maize seed market, and subjected to artificial screening at the MLN facility in Naivasha for two seasons.

“From about one per cent of the 1, 700 hybrids, we got 170 lines that showed tolerance. We repeated screening, and established 20 new lines, which presented good sources of MLN tolerance that gave us a further 800 others with promising traits.

We saw that they have good yield, are early maturing, tolerant to stem borers and other diseases,” he said. Some of the material hybrids to be submitted for further artificial screening include the SC 403 series.

Mwimali said: “CIMMYT has developed five hybrids with good MLN tolerance under artificial inoculation, which have either been released or recommended for release in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Thirteen hybrids are currently under national performance trials in the three countries.”

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