Five countries share their five-best cassava varieties tolerant to deadly viral diseases

Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya join forces to tackle the deadly cassava viral diseases



Dar es Salaam, 16 March 2014. Five countries which are severely affected by two deadly viral diseases threatening to wipe out cassava in East and Southern Africa, have joined efforts to tackle the problem by sharing their top five varieties with tolerance to the two diseases. The 25 varieties in total will then be evaluated in each country to identify those that are well adapted to the various cassava-growing regions and acceptable to the local farming communities.

Together, cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and cassava mosaic disease (CMD), are responsible for production losses worth more than US$1 billion every year and are a threat to food and income security for over 30 million farmers growing cassava in East and Central Africa.

The first consignment of 19 varieties to each of the countries, as tissue culture virus-tested plantlets, was handed over end of last week to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) that received them on behalf of the national agricultural research systems of the five countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. The handing over was held at the Genetics Technologies International Limited (GTIL) – a tissue culture-based laboratory based in Nairobi, Kenya, that was tasked with mass multiplication of the varieties. The remaining varieties are still undergoing mass multiplication and will be sent out later.

While handing over the tissue culture plantlets to IITA and KARI, Dr Ochieng Joseph, the Assistant Director, Food Crops at KARI, who was also the chief guest, said this marked a very important step in the effort to control the two diseases ravaging cassava to ensure food security in the five countries.

He thanked all the partner organizations for their effort in collecting, cleaning up, and multiplying the varieties. “The next task will be to ensure that, once these varieties are evaluated and the best varieties are identified, they reach the small-holder farmers by having an efficient seed distribution system in place. Without seeds, we have no varieties. And all these efforts will have been in vain,” he said.

“Cassava is a very important food and income security crop for over 80 million farmers in the tropics. We are also looking to it to help our farmers cope with climate change as it is able to withstand harsh conditions such as drought and poor soils. However, for this to happen we need to control the spread of these two diseases. And one of the most sustainable ways to do so is to develop varieties that have dual resistance,” said Dr Leena Tripathi, IITA Kenya Country Representative during the ceremony. “However, this takes a very long time, therefore this sharing of varieties that have been released or are near release from and across the five countries will considerably reduce this time.”

This exchange of material is one of the key activities of the project New Cassava Varieties and Clean Seed to Combat CMD and CBSD” led by IITA and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project aims to alleviate food insecurity and poverty by ensuring that farmers have access to high-quality disease-free planting material of diverse improved varieties that combine resistance to CBSD and CMD, and with preferred end-user characteristics.

The varieties were first sent to the Natural Resources Institute (NRI,UK) and to Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS) for cleaning  to ensure their safe transfer to all five participating countries and reduce any chance of spreading the diseases further. They were then forwarded to GTIL.

“Today marks a very important step in the fight against CBSD, with the five countries coming together to freely share their best materials that are tolerant to the disease. Each country will have 20 new varieties to evaluate and choose for official release and multiplication to farmers,” said Dr Edward Kanju, IITA breeder and 5CP Project Coordinator. “We have also taken steps to ensure that we are not spreading the diseases from one country to another and that the materials that we are distributing are virus free,”

Each country will receive 300 plantlets of the 25 varieties which they will multiply in bulk and test across different cassava-growing regions in their respective countries to fast-track efforts to provide farmers with varieties that are tolerant to the two diseases.

“On behalf of the national agricultural research systems from Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya, I receive these tissue-culture plantlets and promise we will multiply and test them across different cassava-growing regions. We will identify those that are tolerant to the diseases and suitable for different uses such as for cooking, for flour, and even for starch,” said Dr Therese Munga, 5CP Kenya Country Coordinator and Head of cassava research at KARI.

She noted that currently the cassava yield in the five countries was very low averaging 8 – 9 t/ha but with these new varieties, yield could go up to 20 t/ha. “This will give our farmers enough cassava to meet their food needs and the surplus for processing into for flour and starch. This will not only contribute to food security but also income and job creation in the rural areas,” she said.

To date, despite all the breeding efforts, no country has developed varieties with resistance to the two diseases and they therefore continue to spread in the region. However, varieties that are tolerant—showing mild symptoms but still giving acceptable yields—have been officially released and many more are in the final stages of official release in project target countries.

Key partners

NARS partners: Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Department for Agricultural Research Services (DARS)–Malawi, National Institute of Agronomic Research (IIAM)–Mozambique, Ministry of Agriculture & Food Security-Department for Research and Development (DRD)–Tanzania, National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO)–Uganda.

Regulatory partners: Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI).

 Private/Commercial partners: Genetics Technologies International Limited (GTIL)–Kenya and Crop Biosciences Solution–Arusha, Tanzania.

International partner: Natural Resources Institute (NRI)–UK.

© 2014, Submitted by Catherine Njuguna. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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