Nakuru County Government has rolled out a new system for surveillance of plant pests and diseases within the devolved unit aimed at improving food security in Kenya.
County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Dr Immaculate Maina said the system christened ‘Nakuru Early Warning System and Community Pest and Disease Monitors’, 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.
In an interview, Dr Maina stated that the County administration had also activated the Nakuru Locust Watch platform that oversees surveillance and offers quick responses on current infestations of the migratory pest.
“The Nakuru Locust Watch platform is designed to strengthen early reaction and contingency planning so that invasions can be better managed and the frequency and duration of such plagues be reduced. Locusts, armyworm, fruit flies, banana diseases, cassava diseases and wheat rusts are among the most destructive trans-boundary plant pests and diseases,” she said.
Dr Maina added, “We are also witnessing new Plant pests and diseases spreading from other countries into Kenya through trade or other human-migrated movements, environmental forces such as wind, water, weather, windborne and insect or other vector-borne pathogens,” she noted
She further added that 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.
The CEC noted that County Government is committed to build farmers’ capacity on pest and disease control and management.
On invasion of desert locusts, Dr Maina stated that the devolved unit’s administration in collaboration with a team from the Isiolo Desert Locust Control Base had sprayed over 140 hectares of land in the past two weeks in areas where heavy infestation was reported.
“The infestation that was seen in Kamara in Kuresoi North, Njoro, Naivasha and Gilgil Sub-counties was brought down through aerial spraying, use of trained Spray Service Providers as well as vehicle mounted sprayers.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) has warned that fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) and desert locusts (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,” she revealed.
According to FAO over 275 plant pests and diseases in 12 countries represent a high to moderate 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,” said Dr Maina.
The CEC 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 added.
The department was jointly working with stakeholders 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 has better returns on investments. We will ensure that they are better versed in the art of pest and disease surveillance to make farming a profitable and sustainable enterprise,” she said.
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.
She said wheat production worldwide was threatened by continuous evolution of new pathogen varieties 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% 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,” she elaborated.
By Jane Ngugi