Sh8.5 million to end biggest cassava threats in Africa

Kenyan research organisation, BecA-ILRI, has received Sh8.5million  funding to develop research on cassava varieties that can withstand cassava brown streak and cassava mosaic diseases in Africa, for a crop relied on by over 200 million Africans but is under threat as the diseases accounts for upto half of yield loss.

Cassava Brown Streak Disease causes dry rot in the roots rendering them inedible,while Mosaic disease occur as characteristic leaf mosaic patterns that affect discrete areas leading to stunted growth. One of the major obstacles for stopping the spread of CBSD is that the disease has different symptoms in different places.

“It is important to note that there are other emerging cassava diseases caused by viruses other than those known to cause cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease,” stated Apollinaire Djikeng, interim director of BecA-ILRI at the 21st International Plant and Animal Genome conference held in San Diego.
“Cassava has been neglected in the past and yet there are arid and semi-arid areas where they could thrive, if scientific innovations are promoted.

"This can relieve the huge population from poverty and hunger as well as dependence on food aid," he added.
The reagents will also be used to accelerate research in identifying virus-resistant genes in cassava through gene expression studies and the analysis of sequence variation.
The grant was awarded by Illumina Agricultural Greater Good initiative, a manufacturer of life science tools and integrated systems situated in San Diego United States.

Cassava is more than just a meal to much of East Africa. It was recently singled out in Kenya as an alternative source of food and income under an initiative to commercial crops.

According to Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO, the cassava plant provides up to one-third of the daily calorie intake for people in those countries where the disease is most prevalent.  It is also a relatively cheap source of nutrition for the urban poor.

The Cassava brown streak disease was first reported in Amani, Tanzania in 1936 but was confined to the low lands of Eastern Africa and around Lake Malawi. However, from 2004, it started spreading to mid-altitude areas and has drastically affected cassava production in Central and South-Western Uganda, North Western Tanzania, Western Kenya, and North Western DR Congo.The Bio Science Eastern and Central Africa-International Livestock Research Institute (BecA- ILRI) will work on ways to eradicate the disease, which is affecting crops across East and Central Africa.

Written by Dominic Wandati for African Laughter