Crop scientists in the country issued a stark warning last week that a deadly disease could devastate maize harvests in Rift Valley and parts of Eastern and lead to depleted stocks and possibly, famine.
The re-emergence of this disease is serious vindication of our country’s weak controls because it was first seen in Kenya in 2010 — and was reported to the Ministry of Agriculture&searchbutton=SEARCH'> Ministry of Agriculture, which at the time dismissed it as an isolated case. This ‘isolated case’ is has turned out to be a new variety of an old crop disease that is believed to be spread by plant hoppers.
Where there is an attack, a maize crop stem can be turned into a tangle of wilted and broken stems in a few days. A big percentage of yield losses have been recorded in Rift Valley and parts of Eastern, though fortunately other parts of the country are yet to be affected.
Because of the complexity of the situation, others believe the strain could present a more devastating disease. There is even speculation that it could be quickly spreading to other parts of the country through wind.
The disease is particularly alarming because it can infect crops in just a few days. Some scientists believe that vast clouds of invisible spores can be carried by wind for several kilometers.
We are not scientists and for this reason, we cannot tell precisely what the problem is. But from several accounts, some based on interviews with farmers whose crops have been affected we can authoritatively say that indeed we have a big problem on our hands.
It is time for the Ministry of Agriculture&searchbutton=SEARCH'> Ministry of Agriculture and other relevant organisations to discard this lax attitude and reign in the disease, which is becoming a serious threat to our national security.
Some companies that deal with crop diseases worry it will continue travelling to other parts and infect major maize growing areas in the rest of Rift Valley and affect places like Kitale and Webuye, which produce the bulk of the maize that feeds our country.
The common feeling amongst players involved in the fight against the disease is that the Ministry of Agriculture&searchbutton=SEARCH'> Ministry of Agriculture has failed to identify whether the pest responsible for the disease is alien or has been introduced maliciously.
It might look far-fetched, but our country is a major target for terrorist attacks and we should not be quick in ruling out terrorist-related activities. This is why in analysing the situation, our authorities should also consider and possibly investigate any links to bio-terrorism.
This could be an attractive option to terrorists because disruption in the agricultural sector can cause profound effects in our country.