Who to blame for the infected maize seeds saga?

Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) has said that it is closely monitoring the maize planted recently in the Northern and Western provinces, after reports that some of the maize varieties distributed to farmers in these areas could have contained a deadly disease.
Minister Agnes Kalibata during a previous interview in Rulindo,  where she urged farmers to uproot maize attacked by disease.  Saturday Times/ File.
Minister Agnes Kalibata during a previous interview in Rulindo, where she urged farmers to uproot maize attacked by disease. Saturday Times/ File.

Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) has said that it is closely monitoring the maize planted recently in the Northern and Western provinces, after reports that some of the maize varieties distributed to farmers in these areas could have contained a deadly disease.

Last week, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, Dr Agnes Kalibata, speaking from Rulindo district, confirmed that the maize seeds that were supplied to the two provinces are subject to a follow up, after laboratory samples showed they were infected.

Under the Crop Intensification Programme, the ministry supplies seeds for maize, wheat and soya beans to farmers growing these crops on a large scale and most of the seeds are locally produced while about 25 per cent is imported.

RAB officials told this paper this week that over 1,500 tonnes of the maize seeds were imported by three companies at different intervals.

The companies are Seedco, a Zimbabwean-based company with an office in Kigali, Pannar, from South Africa, and Kenya Seed Company from Kenya.

About 100 tonnes of Hybrid Pannar 691 distributed to farmers in the Northern Province were found attacked by a virus called Maize Chlorotic Mottle Virus (MCMV).

During an interview, an official working with one of the importers said, on condition of anonymity, that “the virus is endemic in Africa and would not cause harm on its own, but when combined with another virus called Sugar Cane Mosaic Virus (SCMV), it makes devastating impact.”

The official said the combination becomes the Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease (MLND), which would result in quarantining the affected region, “like it happened once in Kenya.”

“The maize is actually not infected with MLND, but the Agriculture ministry is legitimately acting quickly to avoid any possibility of this virus making it to Rwanda.”

RAB technicians are now taking more samples from farmers to get accurate information on the matter and farmers who acquired seeds from the stock said to be infected were requested to not plant more, until further notice, and they will have to uproot the infected seeds.

Whose blame?

According to Jean Jacques Mbonigaba Muhinda, the Director General of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), they followed all procedures from “tendering, reception to dissemination of the seeds to the farmers.”

He said the seeds were imported basing on a standards certificate called the “vital sanitary certificate” which means that there was no need to subject them to further tasting once in the country.

The ministry immediately distributed the seed to the farmers upon importation, as they had done for those that are locally produced.

Muhinda said that it was after distribution that doubts of the quality supplied arose, which obliged RAB experts to re-examine the seeds at the national laboratory, and the results were positive.

All the suppliers who were contacted by Saturday Times did not want to go on record, saying that they are still in negotiations with government over the issue.

But they all said that government was supposed to indicate this particular virus (MCMV) on the tests that the seeds were to be subjected to from their countries of origin, prior to importation.

Cordial relations

However, Muhinda was reluctant to blame the suppliers, saying that they are fully cooperating in the ongoing testing of the seeds that remain in stock.

Saturday Times learnt that, in a meeting held on Thursday between RAB and the three importers, they agreed to subject all imported seed varieties to further testing in laboratories of the importers’ choice.

“We prefer the tests to be carried out from United Kingdom, South Africa or Kenya,” said one of the importers.

A follow-up meeting on the issue is scheduled to take place Wednesday.

In the interview, Muhinda said that they are working hard to ensure the problem does not affect the production of maize in the country.

Statistics from RAB show that countrywide, maize is grown on 250,000 hectares and every season, at least 600,000 tonnes are harvested.

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