Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) has started a surveillance of plant pests and diseases programme in Subukia Sub-County, aimed at improving food security in Kenya.
Nakuru County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Dr. Immaculate Maina Njuthe said the initiative by FAO, the first one of its kind in the country is also expected to check spread of trans-boundary plant pests and diseases that affect food crops, causing significant losses to farmers.
“Locusts, armyworm, fruit flies, banana diseases, cassava diseases and wheat rusts are among the most destructive trans-boundary plant pests and diseases.
We are also witnessing new plant pests and diseases that have been spreading from other countries into Kenya through trade or other human-migrated movements, environmental forces such as wind or water, weather and windborne, and insect or other vector-borne pathogens,” said Dr. Njuthe.
She said outbreaks and upsurges of plant pests and diseases have also caused huge losses to pastures, threatening the livelihoods of vulnerable livestock farmers in the county.
Several diseases and pests that afflict crops, locusts, animal and aquatic diseases were monitored and forecasted by FAO experts for the period January-March 2019.
A total of 275 forecasts were conducted in 120 countries. The pests and diseases were found to represent a moderate to high risk to the food chain in the countries surveyed.
“The spread of trans-boundary plant pests and diseases has increased dramatically in recent years. The rapid increase in the spread which is posing new challenges has been attributed to globalization, trade and climate change, as well as reduced resilience in production systems due to decades of agricultural intensification,” observed Dr. Njuthe.
The county executive noted that main crops that are a primary source of food for over 70 million people in Africa are threatened by pests and diseases.
“Cassava is one of the main food crops throughout the Great Lakes region of Eastern and Southern Africa that continues to be affected by viral diseases.
It is a very important crop in Kenya and Africa as it is produced mostly by smallholders on marginal and sub-marginal lands in the humid and semi-humid tropics. It is adapted to a wide range of environments and tolerant to drought and acidic soils,” she said.
Speaking at Subukia trading center, the county executive said that the devolved unit will recruit and train the youth as disease and pests scouts as a quick response to the FAO surveillance initiative.
“We are jointly working with FAO to establish effective surveillance approaches, integrated management procedures, farmer training and capacity building. The initiative also promotes integrated approaches, strengthening linkages among the stakeholders and promoting regional collaboration.
I urge Kenyan youth to venture into agriculture as it had better returns on investments. We will ensure that they are better versed in the art of pest and disease surveillance to marking farming as a profitable and sustainable enterprise,” she said.
As part of the Program’s package the agriculture department will engage 30 farmers of macadamia who will each receive 20 seedlings.
It will also bring on board 255 registered avocado farmers who will each get 20 seedlings. The initiative also incorporates over 1,000 pyrethrum farmers.
She observed that soil testing was an effective and efficient farming practice that determines the nature of crops to be grown, potential pests and diseases that could harm plants and the kind of fertilizers that may be desirable in a particular area.
“My ministry will train the youth in mobile soil testing techniques where a test on a single farm will also guarantee them payment of Sh1000. We are optimistic that this will bolster their interest in agriculture,” stated Dr. Njuthe.
FAO warns that fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) and desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) that migrate across continents are a potential threat to the livelihoods of one-tenth of the world’s population with one million locusts eating over one tonne of food each day while the largest swarms can consume over 100 000 tonnes each day.
“With regard to pests our partnership with FAO targets to strengthen early reaction and contingency planning so that invasions can be better managed and the frequency and duration of such plagues reduced,” asserted the county executive.
She said wheat production worldwide was threatened by continuous evolution of new pathotypes with the impact more pronounced across the major wheat growing regions of East Africa, North Africa, Middle East and Asia.
It is estimated that 37 per cent of world’s wheat is under risk of potential epidemics of yellow, stem or leaf rust diseases. We will be enhancing research–extension–farmer links, training of officers and farmers and emergency responses where necessary.
The county would promote and support all efforts including monitoring and management of plant pests and diseases throughout Africa Africa to reduce Trans -boundary spread of these diseases, added Dr.Njuthe.
By Anne Mwale