KEPHIS okays hardy new maize varieties:

In Summary

· Three other varieties also said to be highly tolerant are undergoing field tests. They include Wei 108, and WM1259, both from Kari, while the Kenya Seed Company (KSC) is working on MZ 1202 type.

· While parts of the maize-growing areas are still under attack, scientists estimate a drop in the current season’s crop at 60 per cent, from total losses in the previous two harvests.

Maize farmers can expect higher yields following the approval by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) of new varieties resistant to the deadly neucrosis disease.

Type Wei 101, also known as Tumaini 1, is suitable for the worst affected areas, including Bomet, Nakuru, Narok, and parts of lower eastern, according to Kephis managing director James Onsando.

“Kephis has gazetted and commercialised Wei 101. It has been bred jointly by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari), the Global Maize Programme of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT), and the Africa Agricultural and Technology Foundation (AATF),” he said in a telephone interview Thursday.

Three other varieties also said to be highly tolerant are undergoing field tests. They include Wei 108, and WM1259, both from Kari, while the Kenya Seed Company (KSC) is working on MZ 1202 type.

“All these are at an advanced level of testing. We are fast-tracking the process and they could be released before end of the year,” said Dr Onsando.

“There is much less impact than in 2011/12 when farmers in lower Narok, Bomet and Borabu areas lost everything,” he noted. The breakthrough comes at a time when the maize seed industry in eastern Africa is under significant pressure to develop a disease-resistant maize variety.

While parts of the maize-growing areas are still under attack, scientists estimate a drop in the current season’s crop at 60 per cent, from total losses in the previous two harvests.

Nearly 650,000 bags of maize valued at Sh2 billion were lost to the disease, which affected several parts of the Rift Valley. Most of the commercial staple varieties grown in Kenya, including the preferred Hybrid 614, have been found highly vulnerable to the disease. Kenya Seed Company managing director Willy Bet said they had developed two pre-commercial hybrids resistant to the disease.

“We have two varieties that have shown a high level of tolerance. Kenya Seed 1 is now under trial, while another is undergoing field tests by Kephis,” he added.

Source: Daily Nation newspaper; By Zeddy Sambu