Nuru Kenya’s Response to Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease: 2013 Long Rains Season in Review

By August 13, 2013 Agriculture No Comments

Nuru Kenya farmers regularly face and overcome numerous challenges to crop production to get a good harvest: inconsistent weather, poor infrastructure, inaccessibility, and crop disease, to name just a few. In the 2013 long rains season a new threat, Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND), was detected in Kuria West. MLND is a crop disease that infects and kills maize (corn). Nuru launched campaigns to prevent, mitigate, and stamp out the MLND threat. The result was the successful prevention of MLND spread; 98.4% of farmers kept their maize plots free of MLND. Confronting this challenge was a collaborative effort including Nuru’s investors, farmers, Nuru Kenya and Nuru International staff, and partner organizations.

MLND first surfaced in Kenya in 2011 and since spread to Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. MLND occurs when Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus combines with other Potyviruses infecting cereal crops. MLND produces a rapid synergistic reaction that severely damages or kills infected plants. If the infected crops are left untended, the virus continues to spread to nearby farms via insect vectors. These pests are tiny and spread so quickly that this disease has the potential to cause widespread devastation to maize crops. MLND poses a serious threat to rural livelihoods and food security.

In March 2013, the initial four cases of MLND were confirmed in Kuria West. Through quick action, the disease was kept at bay. Near the season’s end in July, the total cases of MLND numbered 87, or 1.6% of Nuru farmers. The affected farmers were offered extension support and assistance. The other 98.4% of Nuru farmers were unaffected by MLND. Compare this to other areas of Kenya where uncontrolled MLND spread has destroyed upwards of 90% of maize crops. Nuru’s efforts to control MLND proved highly successful in largely preventing or mitigating the crop disease.

I credit this success in large part to the people who make Nuru’s programs happen.

Supporters and investors of Nuru International’s work provided the seed funding to launch and maintain programs in Kenya. And when Nuru had the need to fund the fight against MLND in Kenya, donors quickly stepped up. Thank you for supporting Nuru in times of plenty and of need.

In Kuria West, a great deal of the success of the MLND campaign is due to Nuru Kenya farmers. Farmers were active in participating in trainings and implementing best practices. Our 5,500 farmers spent many extra hours in their fields weeding vigilantly to head off the spread of MLND, inspecting their crops to detect disease early, and reporting disease where they saw it. The few farmers whose crops were infected duly uprooted and destroyed the crop, accepting that their loss would stop the disease from spreading to their neighbor. Thank you, farmers of Kuria West, for the community-driven effort and tireless dedication.

Nuru Kenya staff drove operations in the field with local leadership, expertise, and a whole lot of hard work. Field crews were active in detecting disease, rapidly destroyed any infected crops and eliminated pest populations in the surrounding area. The staff also trained farmers with targeted and repeat messaging. The Agriculture Program staff have been monitoring MLND, contingency planning, and researching solutions on an ongoing basis. Thank you Nuru Kenya staff for being on the front lines of keeping the disease at bay.

The fight against MLND became more than a problem for just the Agriculture Program in Kenya to handle; staff from other programs became a part of the solution. At various junctures, Social Marketing, Social Enterprise, Finance, Monitoring and Evaluation, and upper management including Jake Harriman played a part in the fight against MLND. Thank you Nuru International staff for your tireless work in support of our farmers.

Lastly, and importantly, I want to recognize the critical contributions made by agriculture experts, research institutes and seed companies on MLND. Specifically, One Acre Fund, Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), local government, and Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture are just a few essential partners in Nuru’s fight against MLND and, ultimately, against hunger. Thank you for making and sharing your substantial contributions to the science behind MLND.

I could end this post by saying that the future of protecting maize crops from MLND lies in the development of seed stock that isn’t susceptible to MLND; in rotating crops to break the disease cycle; in diversifying crops outside of maize; in crop insurance that removes risk from Nuru and our farmers; or in cultural or agronomic practices that eliminate MLND from maize fields. But the real future of the Agriculture Program’s mission of eliminating episodic hunger is the people: our supporters, our farmers, the local Kenyan staff, our international staff, and the dedicated folks at partner organizations. Thanks to all of you who helped prevent or mitigate MLND this year, and for your continued support in the future.

Matt Lineal

About Matt Lineal

Agriculture Program Strategic Advisor — With multi-disciplinary training in social, economic and environmental sciences, Matt is working to increase crop yields, food security and income for Nuru's smallholder farmers. Previously, Matt worked with The Nature Conservancy and Peace Corps in Honduras; and earned his BA in Government and Spanish from Lawrence University and his MS in Forest Sciences from Colorado State University.

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