Maize farmer
Maize farmer

At the onset of maize planting season in April, Kenyan farmer Stephen Koros bought certified seeds, which he planted immediately as the rains started after months of delay.

The plants were doing well all along, with the farmer at the initial stages overcoming fall armyworms, which had attacked the maize.

Business24

Koros was looking forward to a bumper harvest until when the crops started tasselling and then developed blackheads in August realizing something was wrong.

“Half of my maize plants head started to turn black,” the farmer based in Trans Nzoia, western Kenya, said on Tuesday in a phone interview.

“And it is not only my farm that is affected, several of my neighbors and farmers in the nearby counties have also been hit by the disease,” he added.

The disease has been identified as head smut, which for the past years, had been contained by production of quality hybrid seeds.

Koros is among dozens of farmers growing the staple in the east African nation currently grappling with the disease, whose outbreak has been blamed on environmental factors that include lengthy dry spell as a result of climate change.

“For the first time in many years, my crop has been attacked by head smut. I have been planting maize over the years and using the hybrid seeds as recommended and I had never experienced such a thing,” said Benson Andabwa, a farmer in Uasin Gishu, one of the east African nation’s breadbaskets.

Andabwa, like Koros, grew certified seeds, planted as soon as the rains started in April and applied fertilizer as recommended.

“The only thing that changed this season is that the rains delayed, starting in late April instead of early March and lasted for about a month instead of over two,” he said.

Trans Nzoia official in charge of agriculture Mary Nzomo acknowledged that the disease has led to growing concern in the county since it threatens maize, the dominant crop in the country.

“We have observed prevalence of the disease among farmers who grew some hybrid seeds. Environmental factors certainly contributed greatly to the disease,” she said.

According to the Kenya Agricultural and livestock Research Organization, maize is one of the crops that are highly sensitive to climatic variability making it prone to diseases and pests arising from climate change.

The government institution notes that the crop requires adequate rainfall and favorable temperatures to produce optimally.

It adds that adequate moisture in soil especially when the rains are sufficient boosts availability and uptake of nutrients making the crop stronger and less susceptible to diseases and pests.

“The rains and temperatures have been erratic especially in the last two seasons due to climate change. This year the rains were insufficient including in the breadbaskets and the temperatures in many areas were either too low or too high. This is what is posing the new challenges,” said Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy.

She noted that climate change has become a major threat to food security in Kenya as maize is staple in the country. Enditem

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