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Farmer turns to short season maize to escape lethal necrosis disease

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Mature yellow maize in a farm. Yellow maize is also informally known as Katumani. It escapes diseases and pangs of drought because of its quick maturity. Photo: Agricol

In avoiding losses to lethal necrosis and other diseases, Kisii County farmer Alfred Ombuna has resorted to growing yellow maize, which matures in four months – more than two months earlier than hybrid varieties.

Yellow maize matures within four months. Hybrid maize matures in six to eight months depending on the variety and the region. Cold regions like Nyahururu, maize may take up to eight months to harvest.

“When large tracks of maize are of the same age, spread of pests and diseases from one field to the next one is easy. But for me, I have overcome the lethal necrosis by growing this yellow maize. By the time of the attack in neighbouring fields, I am already harvesting,” he said during the 2017 Kisii Agricultural Society of Kenya Show.

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Lethal necrosis is a viral disease that causes drying of maize leaves and stalks. In most cases, it strikes a few weeks ahead of flowering. In the past four years, the disease has ravaged thousands of acres of maize in most parts of Kenya including, Nyanza, Western, Rift Valley and Central. This has contributed to the cyclic hunger crisis that the country has been having.

In 2013, the farmer lost one acre of maize to the disease. That was after a long wait. But it was from the loss that he learnt that having a quick maturing variety amid slowly growing peers may help in escaping the losses.

That is what he has been doing since 2014.

Although the output is lower than the hybrid, the Kiogoro village farmer is happy to be harvesting more than 20bags in two seasons a year.

The yellow maize, which is informally called Katumani, also escapes the pangs of drought because of the quick maturity.

Maize requires more rain for most of its life. When it is young, water is essential for vigorous growth while at flowering the same is key for formation and filling of cobs.

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