- Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
Set up two years ago in Kenya to assist farmers in identifying the diseases that ail their crops and offer immediate interventions, plant clinics have since moved to take a bigger role of surveillance at Kenya’s border points to prevent the spread of plant diseases into Kenyan farms from neighbouring countries. This groundbreaking project is now becoming a model that other East African Nations have expressed interest in adopting.
The move has seen scientists record reduced cases of the diseases such as rough dwarf maize and white streak maize, which swept swathes of land in Uganda and saw some cases find their way into Kenya. The Kenya Uganda border was the conduit of both diseases, with farmers from Uganda crossing over to Kenya during market days.
The exchange of maize saw cases of the white streak disease in Busia district, near Kenya’s border.
“Much as you are controlling the movement of goods in the border, there are some things that you can not fully control. If a farmer visits a friend and is given a few seeds of maize to go farm and test how they would perform, they would keep them in their bags and the immigration officers might not see any harm in carrying maize, but in that maize could be a disease that can wipe out farms across the country. That is how dangerous the rough dwarf maize disease is,” said Rispa Dama, one of the plant doctors who has worked at the Kenyan border plant clinic.
Maize affected with rough dwarf maize disease has wrinkled leaves and stunted growth and fails to produce cobs. Maize plant breeders estimate the disease can wipe out 20-30 per cent of the whole maize field. The is a vector a leaf hopper that transmits the infection through eggs.
As the government and the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service swung into action to contain an impending disease outbreak, two plant clinics, one in Kapkoi and another in Kwanza areas bordering Uganda were already on the ground ensuring that farmers near the border both in Kenya and Uganda were submitting samples of their plants to the plant doctors for constant monitoring.
“The meticulous monitoring of the plant contributed immensely in containing the spread further into Kenya. Based on the fact that there are very many farmers in the area who plant frequently, the thought of having the disease attack the farmers lands would have been beyond imagination,” said Rispa.
The plant clinic model sees farmers identify a problem with their crops, whether stunted growth or change in colour, and take it to designated plant clinics, where plant doctors diagnose the problem. The plant doctors are extension officers from the Ministry of Agriculture with experience in plant pathology and who receive extra training on the common diseases prevalent on the farms. Once the problem is identified, the extension officer advises the farmers on the pesticides to buy or the remedies for the plant disease.
According to Negussie Efa, a training and research scientist involved in the plant clinic concept, the plant clinics, which were started by the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), have managed to curb foreign attacks of pests and diseases in the country by a remarkable 75 per cent as more stringent measures, like frequent monitoring of the crops along the border, have intensified.
“Of course, there are situations which are beyond the control of the plant clinics, like if someone sneaks in a few infected maize seeds to the country and only plants them in areas where plant doctors might not be there,” said Rispa. But the moves to provide the disease testing as a service to help farmers has so far yielded unusually rapid results in disease prevention.
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