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Coffee farms put on alert over outbreak of ‘BBC’ disease

The government has warned of an outbreak of a bacterial disease that can cause total damage to current coffee produce.  

Coffee Research Institute (CRI), an institution of Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Karlo) yesterday confirmed that farmers risk losing up to 100 per cent of their crop and decline in trees following the outbreak of Bacterial Blight of Coffee (BBC) also known as Solai/Elgon die back.

Kalro Director General Eliud Kireger said there has been increased occurrence of the disease in high altitude areas mainly in East of the Rift Valley due to the ongoing rains. Other diseases that affect coffee include coffee berry disease and coffee leaf rust mostly found in high cold and humid altitudes and warm low altitudes. Kireger said BBC caused by bacterium (pseudomonas syringae pv garcae) is common in high attitude areas characterised by low temperatures, very cold winds, high daily temperatures and hailstoms. The disease is mainly spread through plant surface water, splash erosion, farm machinery and tools, and human body. Initially, the disease was commonly found in Solai areas of Nakuru County and areas around Mt Elgon in Trans Nzoia County.  However, of late it has spread to other parts of the country including Kisii, Kiambu, Nandi Nyeri, Murang’a where most of coffee is produced.

“Coffee trees affected have water soaked necrotic lesions on leaves, flowers buds and young branches. Infection starts on the apical parts and spreads backwards resulting to die back and eventual death of the branches if not well managed,” said Dr Kireger.  

The spread of the disease between trees is mainly by rain splash, movement of workers and implements. Farm to farm and inter-regional spread is aggravated by pruners who use their tools in infected farms and blocks to uninfected ones. Further, the incidences and severity of the disease could be increased by plant injuries caused by hail, very high day time temperatures, prolonged wetness wind and inappropriate chemicals.

Kireger advised farmers to use integrated management through prevention, containment and control and as well seek counsel from the researchers at Karlo.

“Protection entails application of practices that prevent the infection of coffee trees by pathogens through creating conditions that are not favourable for existence of the pathogens,” he added.

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