Lethal Maize disease outbreak to cut output significantly


A disease that infects corn has been found in Oromia and Southern Regional States, has the potential to cause a great deal of harm. Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) which was first detected in Kuria, Western Kenya is a crop disease that infects and kills maize (corn).

It first surfaced in Kenya in 2011 and since has spread to Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. Now it is threatening parts of Ethiopia.
After the disease is identified agricultural experts have been travelling to Kenya to assess the damage done by the disease to learn more about it. A series of meetings have also been held to tackle the disease.  MLND produces a rapid synergistic reaction that severely damages or kills infected plants. If the infected crops are left untended, the virus continues to spread to nearby farms via insects. These pests are tiny and spread so quickly that this disease has the potential to cause widespread devastation to maize crops. MLND poses a serious threat to rural livelihoods and food security. Farmers have been told by the Agricultural Ministry to be on the look-out for corn that has a dead heart at the growing point, abnormal colours or patterns on leaves that are often yellow or necrotic; moldy seeds or stems that are stunted or have died back.  In Ethiopia the disease was first observed in the Rift Valley.  Extension workers are now being sent out to tell farmers to use certain chemicals to eliminate pests that might spread the problem. An expert with the Ministry of Agriculture told Capital that the disease might significantly reduce the annual yield.  One farmer in Oromia said,  “I saw a unique feature last July on my maize and now I lost 300 quintals in three days.’’ The Ministry says they are trying to alleviate the problem by sending seed inspectors to check for Maize lethal necrosis disease (MLND) in seed farms.  Alemayhu Kibert, an agronomist said that the government initiation must be strengthened to avoid catastrophe due to the new disease. “Maize is hugely consumed in different form in Ethiopia especially in southern region, and if the disease spreads, it will threaten our food security that we have been seeing a good result in the past ten years” he said. In the last budget year 253 million quintals of maize was produced which is an increase of 21 million quintals from the previous year. The best approach for the management of MLND is to employ integrated pest management practices encompassing cultural control such as closed season, crop rotation and crop diversification, vector control using seed treatment followed by foliar sprays, and host-plant resistance, according to the Ministry. It is necessary to use good field sanitation methods, including weed control measures to eliminate alternate hosts for potential vectors the ministry advised.  In Kenya, varieties are being screened for resistance and tolerance and Ethiopia’s Agricultural Ministry says they are inspecting corn at the border to prevent infected maize from coming into the country.  In 2013, Ethiopia’s tomato production was severely affected by Tuta Absoluta, commonly called Tomato Leafminer (TLM) moth. This disease was suspected to have come from Yemen and entered into Ethiopia via the northern part of the country. TLM spreads fast into major tomato producing regions including Oromia and Somali Regional States jeopardizing 50 to 60 percent of the country’s total tomato production.