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By Robert Wanjala
Kenya’s economy and food security situation has suffered yet another blow this week after the country’s staple crop – maize was hit by a new disease.
The new maize bug which is said to spread very fast has attacked the largest province that is also the country’s food basket – Rift Valley.
The bad news comes barely a week after the country’s Economic Survey 2012 report released by the Ministry of Planning cautioned Kenyans to brace themselves for hard economic times ahead.
The survey had put damper on economy with a projection of a dismal 3.5 per cent economy growth this year. The grim outlook was attributed to among other factors, erratic weather condition linked to climate change.
According to government experts the deadly fungal which is dispersible by wind and water has already infected over 40 per cent of the crop and is spreading fast to the rest of the country.
The disease is said to attack early maize harvest threatening the country’s food security and the struggling economy.
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services – a government plant doctor’s agency says the disease is the leaf stripe of maize caused by fungus – Cephalosporium acremonium.
In a report to the Ministry of Agriculture, KEPHIS wants all infected crops destroyed and farmers be compensated by the government.
Kenya consumes about 44 million bags of maize annually as per the latest statistics at ministry of agriculture. And if the harvest is poor the effect will be felt in the country’s economy, the report says.
The latest maize attack will push the price of maize above last year’s US$ 63 a record per bag. High prices in the country have pushed up inflation placing the country at risk of social unrest.
KEPHIS is also recommending that government buys all the grains from affected regions and move it under security escort to milling facilities to ensure none of it finds its way back to the market by unscrupulous cartels out to mint money.
However, Dr. Romano Kione, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture was still reluctant on whether to adopt the KEPHIS report. Although it is not immediately established why the MoA is undecided on the report sources intimated that the PS could be waiting for further research findings from other institutions like Kenya Agriculture Research Centre (KARI), and Universities.
On his part Kione says the disease could have been caused by a combination of pathogens and warned farmers saying the infection posed serious threats to the national food security.
Dr. Johnson Irungu, director of crop management at the MoA notes that KEPHIS and KARI reports on the disease were conflicting.
“When scientists give conflicting information you have to start digesting and that is why the ministry was advising farmers to use good farming practices,” Dr. Irungu says.
The disease was first noticed last November in various parts of the agriculture-rich province. Dr. Kione at that time warned that the disease was bad news because the regions under attack were crucial to country’s food security as harvest from the areas reached the market early July and August when the national reservoirs are at their lowest.
A team of experts from KEPHIS, KARI, Agro-Chemical firms, Egertony University and International Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre was investigating the cause of disease, says the PS.
But KEPHIS head James Onsando was non-committal saying his organization had given its progress report to the relevant ministry and is up to the PS to do whatever they want with the report.
KEPHIS report suspects the disease to originate from Maize Seed Production farm in Taveta – Coastal part of the country where similar problem were experienced in 2003 and had called on that the farm be put under surveillance.
The ministry’s latest country food security report shows a grimmer harvest of about 190,242 bags of the stable crop by the end of September.
This mean Kenyans will remain at the mercy of acute starvation and relief aids. The Kenya government often allocates foreign exchange for maize input.
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