Down the pan

How about I start this week’s blog with a question……what is the common link between the newly-constructed toilet block in Kithimu market place and Maize streak virus (MSV)?

Left: The toilet block at Kithimu market (Credit: Claire Beverley ©CABI) and Right: Maize Streak Virus (Credit: AgBioForum)

Did you guess that the answer is plant clinics? The plant clinic at Kithimu market comes under the district of Embu West in Kenya, but it was forced to shut when the market place was closed down by council officials in 2010, due to the lack of facilities. Now that the new toilet block has been built, the market is open again and is host to a plant clinic, which runs weekly.

Catherine Muriithi works for Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and is also the district coordinator for the clinic cluster in Embu West. She told us that cereals are very important in Embu West and during a cluster meeting with plant doctors from across this district we heard that maize is one of the most common crops brought into the plant clinics. It suffers from several pests and diseases; MSV is one of the main problems. Plant doctors attending the cluster meeting for Embu West, were encouraged to discuss the ways in which MSV can be managed.

Grains being sold near the market (Credit: Peter Karanja ©CABI)

We heard that control measures advised to farmers include:

  • plant certified seed. Farmers are encouraged to avoid sourcing their seed from neighbours and use seed from a more trusted and transparent source instead.
  • plant resistant varieties, although it is recognised that quite a few maize varieties are susceptible to MSV.
  • practice crop rotation.
  • practice rogueing.
  • control the leafhopper vector by using pesticides.

Plant doctors reported that farmers also use a seed dressing so that they can recycle seed. The recycled seed is mixed with the dressing before planting.

One of the other major issues faced by small-holder farmers in this district is Fusarium wilt of bananas and unfortunately the control options are far more limited for this disease. Plant doctors are advising farmers to avoid the spread of the pathogen and avoid getting planting material from dubious sources. There is no chemical control and sadly this is causing great concern amongst banana growers in the region.

The main crops and pests brought to plant doctors at clinics in Embu West are listed below:

Main crops

Main pests

Coffee stem borers, leaf rust, coffee berry disease, thrips
Banana Fusarium wilt, nematodes, banana weevil
Maize MSV, larger grain borer, maize stem borer,
Tomato nematodes
Mango mango weevil, anthracnose
Brassica bacterial stem rot, black rot, aphids

By discussing the main crops and diseases brought into the plant clinics, the plant doctors are aware of what their colleagues are advising to farmers and can provide a consistent message across their clinic cluster. We can also use this information to ensure that we tailor the knowledge bank to match the information required on the ground.

Ministry of Agriculture, Embu West District Office (Credit: Claire Beverley ©CABI)

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