South Sudan confronts maize Lethal Necrosis Disease
South Sudan is making progress in efforts to control the spread of the Maize Lethal Necrosis disease (MLN) as well as in finding varieties that are resistant to the virus. South Sudan research teams have so far assembled and sent 12 types of maize germplasm for screening under artificial inoculation at the CIMMYT MLN facility in Naivasha, Kenya.
The teams are also in the process of increasing seed for selected hybrids and for open pollinated varieties with tolerance and resistance to MLN.
A regional team comprising partners from ASARECA, the University of Nairobi, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) recently visited the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Cooperatives and Rural Development of the Republic of South Sudan to assess the progress of implementation of activities to control the spread of MLN.
The team visited Palotaka Basic Seed Centre and Yei Research Centre and also conducted a rapid field survey of maize farmer fields for MLN occurrence and raised awareness on MLN. Six demonstrations for MLN tolerance among subsistence farmers are ongoing. The survey was conducted across Magwi and Torit Counties in the Eastern Equatoria State; and Ikotos and Juba Counties in the Central Equatoria State.
From the 59 samples taken, maize samples with typical MLN symptoms were found. These will be subjected to confirmation from the laboratory analysis. However, symptoms, disease incidence and severity appeared moderate. Presence of vectors was also noted but in low populations.
The meeting was officiated by South Sudanese Minister H.E. Beda Machar Deng, Minister for Agriculture, Forestry, Tourism, Animal Resources and Fisheries. It was attended by the two Under Secretaries (Permanent Secretaries), all the Director Generals in the Ministry, Office of Plant Protection, Major NGOs (ARC, FAO, etc), representatives of the academia, farmers and others.
The Hon. Minister, H.E. Beda Machar Deng praised ASARECA for opening up synergies for Sudan’s agriculture to the regional and continental discourse on Agricultural research and development. He cited the admission of South Sudan to the ASARECA family and efforts to link South Sudan’s efforts to combat the MLN disease to the regional front as key milestones. He said MLN is a real threat to S. Sudan, and offered to support all efforts to defeat it. “Despite having joined ASARECA only three years ago, our experience in ASARECA has been very fruitful,” he noted.
According to Mr Luka Atwok, the Principle Investigator and coordinator of MLN research in South Sudan, several surveys targeting three major maize-growing areas to confirm the presence of the disease and establish disease distribution, and information on indigenous knowledge and other coping strategies that farmers may be using to manage the disease are underway.
Since MLND was detected in the sub-region in 2011, ASARECA has provided leadership to national agricultural research institutions and international partners by convening key stakeholders to strategize and develop a coordinated response to the disease. As part of this effort, ASARECA has been coordinating initiatives to identify maize lines that are tolerant to MLN and supporting efforts to release safe varieties.
The Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease is threatening food security for the majority of households in ECA. High yield losses in maize due to MLN ranging from 50 to 90% have been reported and can reach 100% where the disease pressure is high. Its presence has been confirmed in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia. However, there is paucity of information on its presence in South Sudan.
Compiled by Ben Moses Ilakut and Brian Isabirye