Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Five countries are jointly addressing two deadly cassava diseases in the region

14 February 2014. SciDev. Cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) cause losses estimated at US$1 billion every year worldwide, placing farmers at risk of food insecurity, according to the Nigeria-headquartered International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). CMD can lead to total yield loss, while CBSD affects root quality and renders roots unfit for human consumption and animal feed production.

IITA is spearheading the project in five countries — Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda — in collaboration with a national agricultural research institution in each nation.

The countries are sharing their top five varieties resistant to the diseases as part of a project called New Cassava Varieties and Clean Seed to Combat CBSD and CMD (5CP). The project, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, began in 2012.

The first consignment of 19 varieties in the form of plantlets or laboratory-created small plants were released last month (14 March) by Genetics Technologies International Limited (GTIL), a tissue culture-based laboratory in Kenya. According to GTIL, each of the five countries received 300 plantlets of a variety. Six more varieties are undergoing mass multiplication and will be shared later.

Edward Kanju, 5CP project coordinator, says cassava has a potential for commercialization to improve food security.
“We are aware that cassava has been identified to be one of the crops that can be used to mitigate climate change and many [African] countries are embarking on cassava research and production. Each of the five countries will evaluate 20 new cassava varieties to identify those well adapted to local conditions and are acceptable to local farming communities. The project will pilot in Tanzania a seed certification system for cassava to ensure that farmers grow only disease-resistant varieties. Most of the cassava growing countries don’t have any official seed certification scheme. We want to try that in Tanzania”.
Simon Gichuki, the coordinator of the biotechnology centre at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, says: “There are other supportive projects such as virus-resistant cassava for Africa (VIRCA) looking at providing transgenic solutions to both diseases using biotechnology tools”.

VIRCA is being undertaken in Kenya and Uganda. Since 2005,the Monsanto Fund has been working with scientists at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center to develop new forms of cassava that are genetically enhanced to resist these viruses. Other collaborators in VIRCA include the National Crop Resources Research Institute in Uganda, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, and the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, based in Nigeria.

Other contributions come from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard G. Buffett Foundation. As a major donor, Monsanto Fund has contributed nearly $13 million to VIRCA. Monsanto also has contributed the expertise of its scientists, who have learned about virus resistance from their work on tomatoes and other crops in which Monsanto has a direct interest.

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