THE maize disease reported in several regions in the country is a serious threat and farmers in the Northern regions have been urged to remain on alert.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Ms Sophia Kaduma, said in Dar es Salaam yesterday that researchers are still studying the disease in a search for lasting solution.
Maize lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND) which was revealed in the National Assembly for the first time in June, this year by the ministry's minister, Eng. Christopher Chiza was first detected in Karatu District. In the Eastern Africa region, the MLND disease was first seen at the Bomet Province in the Rift Valley in Kenya in September, 2011.
"The threat remains intact because we have not been able to find a real solution to the disease. Farmers in northern regions which are highly affected have been advised to store maize flour not raw maize," she said.
She named the regions threatened as Kilimanjaro, Manyara and Mara, adding that the real cause of the disease was yet to be established but early research shows that it was transmitted from neighbouring Kenya. Mr Lucas Ayo who is an agricultural officer in the ministry said farmers were also advised not to feed their livestock with such maize its safety was still questionable.
"We are not sure over whether a maize crop attacked by the disease can be fit for consumption so to be safe farmers should avoid feeding their livestock from such maize," he said.
In another development, Ms Kaduma urged farmers in Kagera Region to continue observing the advice from extension officers on ways of dealing with banana disease, dubbed Mnyauko.
She noted that farmers should continue cutting down all banana with symptoms of the disease, keep their farms clean and plant only official seeds produced from seed farms located in the region.
"We are facing the challenge due to lack of enough extension officers, but we are optimistic that by 2015 we will be able to increase the number to 15,000 from the current 11,000. When we reach that target we will be able to supply a reasonable number of extension officers in all villages," she said.
Eng. Chiza said the ministry formed a task force to conduct a survey in all districts of the northern zone bordering Kenya. In the course of the survey, all samples of maize with signs of the disease were collected and sent to laboratories, where results have proved the existence of the disease in Manyara, Simiyu, Mara, Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions.
The disease is caused by two kinds of viruses namely maize chrlorotic mottle virus (MCMV) including the sugarcane mosaic virus (SCMV). Researchers have found that the disease is spread by insects including aphids and beetles.
According to the minister, these insects can easily be carried by air over long distances, thus the possibility of spreading rapidly to many areas in the country is immense. He said the disease affects maize at all growth stages, although symptoms begin when the maize reaches a 60cm height.
When the disease attacks the plant in its early stages, all leaves at the top of the plant commonly known as dead heart die causing the whole plant to die as well. When it is seriously affected by the disease, the maize becomes attacked by frost.
Eng. Chiza said the disease can wipe out up to 100 per cent of a farm's maize crop, adding that the government has taken various measures including sensitisation of farmers and awareness campaign on how the public can recognise and curb the disease.
The ministry has also been distributing leaflets, brochures, billboards and advertisements in newspapers. He said the ministry in collaboration with the office of the Chief Justice has formulated regulations to control the disease. The rules prohibit transportation of maize from all the affected areas to the non-affected ones, except in the form of flour.
"Whoever goes against the implementation of these regulations, will be punished according to the Plants Preservation Act of 1997, including the burning of the confiscated maize at the cost of the owner," he stressed.
The ministry through the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI) has provided identification kits to researchers to enable them to quickly identify the disease. He said the ministry is researching for a maize strain that is resistant to the disease.