Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

24 June 2013

Tanzania: Maize Disease Worries Rural Farmers

THE government will give a statement this week on the magnitude of the "Maize Lethal Necrosis" (MLN) that has ravaged farms in some regions in the country.

The Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives' Minister, Eng. Christopher Chiza, told the 'Daily News' in a telephone interview yesterday that there is no scientific proof so far of people or animals that have been affected as a result of consuming the maize.

"A team of researchers has been dispatched to the affected regions. After some time, they will be able to confirm whether there are people or animals that have been affected after eating the affected maize," the minister explained.

There have been unconfirmed reports of people and animals who have been affected after eating affected maize but the minister said that this claim cannot be proved at this time, "unless scientists prove it." Kagera, Mara, Manyara and Arusha are some of the regions which are said to have been affected by the disease which was first reported in Kenya.

The government has taken a number of efforts in a bid to curb MLN including destroying affected maize fields and discouraging trade of maize grains within the country and from outside. "All maize seeds should be certified before they enter the country and, on the other hand, we are encouraging trade and importation of maize flour rather than grains," Eng. Chiza said.

Regional Commissioner for Manyara, Mr Elaston Mbwilo, told this newspaper that his region is among those which have been devastated by the disease. "We are told that the affected maize affect people and animals but no harm has been reported in my region so far," he said in a telephone interview.

He encouraged citizens to destroy maize fields in areas which have been affected and also encouraged planting of new seeds. Three districts in the region -- Mbulu, Babati and Hanang -- have been affected by MLN. Mara Regional Commissioner John Tupa confirmed recently that some maize fields in several districts in his region have been affected by maize lethal necrosis. The districts include Bunda, Rorya and Serengeti.

"Experts have said that the disease has been spotted in some farms in those districts, but the problem has not cropped up in all farms in the region. Only a few maize fields," he said. Mr Tupa said the government has already mobilized public education campaigns to educate the public on the importance of uprooting the affected maize in the fields and burn them.

The disease was first reported in Kenya a few months ago before spreading to Tanzania and Uganda, according to reports on social media networks. Mr Tupa said scientists in the region had explained that destroying the maize will stop the disease from spreading to other farms.

According to the experts, MLN is caused by a combination of two viruses and that it is difficult to differentiate them individually based on visual symptoms and the insects that transmit the disease causing viruses are carried by wind over long distances.

Mr Tupa urged members of the public in his region to plant alternative crops including cassava, sweet and potatoes to avert the looming food shortages due to the maize disease. He also noted that farmers are being educated on the best use of maize seeds that have been approved by government.

Speaking in Parliament recently, Minister Chiza warned against importing maize from neighbouring Kenya following the outbreak of MLN disease in some parts of that country. The minister said that although the government has relaxed food exports and imports it was still regulating the trade.

The Minister was responding to a question from Mr Vincent Nyerere (Musoma Urban - Chadema), who wanted to know why the government was not allowing Mara residents to import maize and other crops through the Sirari border.

In Kenya where the disease was first reported, scientists at the state-owned Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services urged the government to destroy entire farms affected by the disease as a control measure. In the worst hit Rift Valley Province in the country, which produces about half the country's maize, at least 70 per cent of the maize crop had been affected, according to Kenyan government officials.

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