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Diseases Wreak Havoc in Cassava Fields in Africa

A woman peels cassava to make cassava flour in a market in Lagos, Nigeria, May 2013.

A woman peels cassava to make cassava flour in a market in Lagos, Nigeria, May 2013.

In Africa, demand for the cassava plant has grown significantly over the years. The continent produces 60 percent of the crop in the world. But the crop is drastically declining in East and Central Africa due to diseases that reduce production.

More than 160 million people in east, central and southern Africa depend on cassava as a stable food and a source of income.

Production of the crop has significantly dropped due to the cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak diseases.

According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO], the brown streak disease is worse since it affects the root of the crop. These two diseases are creating havoc in Africa’s agricultural lands.

Improvements necessary

The acting head of the FAO in eastern and central Africa, Luca Alinovi, said the agency has invested to improve the situation in the African fields, but it is not getting better.

“Doing right or wrong on cassava has a huge impact on the food security of the people in this region, has such a relevance in our daily lives that we tend to forget it because it appeared in a kind of technical discussion. And I want to bring to your attention that, although it is a technical issue it requires knowledge and requires research,” said Alinovi.

The head of the European Union Rural Development and Agriculture program in Kenya, Dominique Davoux, said that over the years the cassava diseases have evolved, and there is need to invest in research to fight the diseases.

“We supported the cassava initially, there has been [a] stop in the support, the research slugged [lagged] behind, and the disease reinvented itself [and] propagated again. We have to re-address the issue,” said Davoux.

The FAO says a minimum of $100 million is needed to support clean farm production, disease surveillance and research, and market and micro-finance development across the cassava production chain.

Experts warn failure to do so means the cassava disease likely will reach Nigeria, the biggest producer of cassava in Africa.