When Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) was identified in Africa for the first time in 2011, scientists feared the worst. The disease can lead to up to 100% grain loss in farmers’ fields, with symptoms including premature plant death and unfilled, poorly formed maize cobs. However, rapid and coordinated action among public and private institutions across sub-Saharan Africa has helped contain the spread of the deadly disease, averting a potential food security disaster in the region.
Early sign of maize lethal necrosis infection, mottling of leaves. Photo: Jennifer Johnson.
Maize is the primary staple food for more than 300 million consumers in sub-Saharan Africa, each of whom eats more than 50 kilograms of the grain on average per year, making MLN a direct threat to food security across the continent. By 2014, the disease had been reported in much of eastern Africa, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
Timely and targeted interventions from the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), and partners including national agricultural research institutions, governments, commercial seed companies, and global R4D partners have largely controlled the disease. Due to these efforts, MLN has not been reported to have spread to any new countries since 2014.
Countries with confimed cases of MLN in Eastern Africa. No new countries have reported the disease since 2014.
“The battle against such a devastating disease had to be coordinated on multiple fronts, with a multi-pronged approach,” explained B.M. Prasanna, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Maize.
“Among other actions, MAIZE lead center CIMMYT established a dedicated MLN screening facility in partnership with KALRO at Naivasha in 2013. This has enabled screening of more than 175,000 germplasm entries over the last six years and helped identify MLN resistant breeding lines and hybrids,” Prasanna said.