How to control fungal maize disease

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Maize head smut disease is a major problem affecting farmers in our area. What can we do to prevent the disease from recurring?

Maize smuts or head smut (sphacelotheca reiliana) is a common disease that affects the maize crop in many regions in the country. It is a fungal disease that affects the cobs and tassels of the maize plant. It is suspected the disease originated from maize seed imported into the country.


 The affected maize cob develops white swollen pouches, which turn black, and then burst releasing more black spores that later infect other maize plants.

The affected maize becomes unproductive and can contaminate the entire maize crop. The fungal spores are transported by wind, water, human beings, and animals over great distances to other areas where they infect other crops. The fungus may remain in the soil for many years.

 Control measures

There is no known cure for the disease, apart from good crop husbandry. Farmers who notice maize smuts in theirshambas should cut the affected plant before it releases the spores, and destroy it by burning. Do not put such crop residue in compost heaps or pits. The head smut fungus also affects sorghum with similar symptoms. If the disease is noticed, no crops from the grass family should be planted in the field for a minimum of three years. All shambas bordering the affected farm have to check if their maize or sorghum has developed the signs of the disease and remove any diseased plants. This prevents the disease from spreading.

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