Maize lethal necrosis disease: a real threat to food security in the Eastern and central Africa region

Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease is “a looming threat unlike anything farmers have ever faced before”i especially in the Eastern and Central Africa (ECA) region where maize is an important staple and food security crop. About 90% of the regional population depends on maize for food, labor and income. Maize production in the region is constrained by both biotic and environmental factors. The abiotic factors include drought, low use of farm inputs especially fertilizers, low soil fertility, low rates of adoption of new technologies and in-appropriate agronomic practices. The main biotic factors include infestation by weeds particularly striga spp and insect pests such as the maize stalk borers, soil pests like termites, nematodes, cutworms, and chaffer grubs. Diseases include Grey leaf spot, Northern leaf blight, rusts, different types of rots (root, stalk and ear), smuts, Maize streak virus and Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease. Other biotic factors include wildlife damage on crops that neighbor forested areas, birds and post-harvest losses. Managing these constraints has been a continuous process involving different stakeholders in the maize industry and production was on the increase with the introduction of different maize varieties which met different consumers. However, the emerging of MLN disease in the region has thrown everyone back to the drawing board.