Kenyan Farmers Find Yield-Reducing Fungus on Corn Farms

  • Infestation found in bread-basket region of North Rift
  • Nation already expects fall in production in 2016 on rains

Kenyan agricultural authorities are monitoring an outbreak of head smut, a yield-reducing disease, that’s been detected on several corn farms in the North Rift region that accounts for 80 percent of the nation’s output of the staple.

The disease is unlikely to cut output unless it spreads, Johnson Irungu, director of crops at the Agriculture Ministry, said on phone. Business Daily, a Nairobi-based newspaper, reported earlier Monday that the disease may cut production as much as 50 percent this year.

“The head smut is negligible, it has only affected a few farms,” Irungu said by phone from Nairobi. “We are monitoring to see the fungal disease doesn’t spread.”

The East African country already expects a 12 percent drop in production this year from the 42.5 million 90-kilogram (198-pound) bags harvested last season because of the late onset of rains. Kenyans consume as much as 40 million bags of corn annually.

The Cereal Growers Association, an industry lobby group, said it was awaiting an assessment of the infestation before determining any impact on production. Potential losses are worse when young seedlings are infected.

“My greater worry is for the next season, if these head smut pores remain in the soil,” CGA Chief Executive Officer Anthony Kioko said by phone. “Depending on infestation, head smut can destroy between 30 percent and 50 percent of corn production.”

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