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Army worm threatens foundation seed yields

Kenya could import foundation seed in the next planting season if delay in decisive measures to combat the invasive Fall Army Worm (FAW) is not addressed fast.

There is fear that over 50,000 acres of maize have been infested by FAW as the County Government of Trans Nzoia – first to tackle the pest – seems to be running out of intervention options with dwindling pesticide stocks.

Large-scale government seed producers such as Kenya Seed Company (KSC) and the Agricultural Development Corporation have not been spared by the pest either.

County government officials, who spoke during a tour of farms in Trans Nzoia last week said they targeted to spray up to 21, 600 hectares. They have however, only been able to spray 20 per cent of land.

The national FAW campaign was launched in Kiminini Sub-County on May 8 by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary, Willy Bett. On behalf of the national government, Bett pledged about Sh200 million to tackle the pest. Trans Nzoia county government, however, says they have not received a cent for required chemicals.

“We are not out of the woods yet. The pest is advancing quickly to other fields. If help doesn’t come over soon, we are likely to lose up to, or over 70 per cent of the crop,” Governor Patrick Khaemba said through his deputy, Dr Stanley Tarus and County Chief Officer for Agriculture, Mary Nzomo.

When the FAW campaign started, according to Khaemba, the County Assembly approved Sh45 million for interventions, largely for smallholder farmers. “We hoped the national government would supplement our efforts. But so far no tangible mitigative measures, especially provision of chemicals, have come from them,” said Tarus.

The two officers predict the pest – which multiplies quickly under warm conditions – is likely to be around for longer as climate change continues to disrupt rainy patterns in the region. KSC produces over 30 million kilogrammes of maize seeds annually.

“When farms in the country’s bread basket are affected our national food security situation is at stake,” he added. Nzomo said high status material, basic, growers’ and hybrid seed are all under threat of the pest which seems to be aided by the erratic rains.

The pest, she said, attacks a crop at all stages of growth. She said it takes up to three years to have seeds ready for commercialisation.

“Urgent committed interventions must be stepped up to save the country from importing the propagation seed,” said Nzomo. She said agriculture experts in the North Rift and western Kenya region are considering a number of other options including, genetic engineering; breeding for tolerance and mechanical interventions as long-term measures to combat the pest.

Dr Lilian Gichuru, a plant breeder with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, says authorities should replicate some of the past interventions against the desert locust, the Africa Army Worm and even the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease in the fight to defeat the FAW.

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