The New Times (Kigali)

21 August 2014

Rwanda: New Maize Disease Worries Burera Farmers

Farmers in Burera District are worried following a new crop disease that is slowly eating away their yields.

Theoneste Bisanukuri, a farmer, said the disease invaded his maize plantation last season, leading to reduced yields.

The disease is characterised by yellowing of leaves, withering of plants at about flowering time, and when it infects a young maize plant, it halts its ear development.

Gitovu Sector Agriculture officer Eric Ntwali, however, said that the government has rolled out measures to curb the disease.

They include equipping farmers with the necessary skills and knowledge on best agricultural practices.

"Farmers should embrace modern agricultural practices to deter such diseases and boost their yields," Ntwali said.

He said the disease, commonly referred to as maize lethal necrosis (MLN), is caused by two viruses; maize chlorotic mattle virus (MCMV), and maize dwarf mosaic virus (MDMV)/wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV).

Ntwali said the disease was first reported in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania where it reportedly devastated crop yields.

Tonny Nsanganira, the State Minister in the Ministry for Agriculture, said, in the country, the disease was first reported towards the end of last year in Burera, Rubavu and Rusizi districts.

He, however, said the virus has been contained through stopping importation of disease-bearing seeds.

Farmers also said the introduction of the crop intensification production programme by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2008, has helped check the disease.

They said the new agricultural trend where crops are planted according to soil fertility and season has not only seen their economic standards rise, but also helped reduce both fungal and bacterial crop diseases.

"Today we have food security because this new trend of farming enables us to grow enough to feed our families and to sell. Our only worry is that the new disease that is affecting our yields," Bisanukuri said.

Burera, being one of the country's breadbaskets, produces mostly, maize ,beans, wheat, Irish potato and bananas. The area is rich in fertile soils and favourable climate.

Before the crop intensification programme, key diseases that affected agriculture production included the stalk borer (or nkongwa ku bigori) and aspergillus ear rots; a disease that results from poor storage practices of harvested maize.

In an attempt to ensure good harvest and promote quality of crops, the government is building drying warehouses in sectors of the district to help curb diseases that result from poor drying and storage.

Ntwali said the aim is to increase crop value. It is also expected that the construction of warehouses along the main roads will help farmers cut down on transportation costs and avoid pilferage losses.

Farmers in the area attest that they have been taking advantage of the government's subsidised fertilisers and seed prices, which they say has helped them purchase quality seeds and fertilisers for modern agricultural practices.

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