News / Africa

Scientists Work to Control Cassava Plant Disease in Africa

A farmer digs up cassavas in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, June 2008 file photo. A farmer digs up cassavas in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, June 2008 file photo.
x
A farmer digs up cassavas in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, June 2008 file photo.
A farmer digs up cassavas in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast, June 2008 file photo.
Anne Look
Scientists and agriculture experts are meeting in Bellagio, Italy this week to work out how to fight a deadly plant virus that has been annihilating cassava crops in East Africa for nearly a decade.

Recent outbreaks of this "rapidly proliferating" virus in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola have sparked fears that the epidemic is pushing into West Africa, and could reach Nigeria, the world's largest producer and consumer of the cassava plant.

Cassava, a tropical root vegetable, could be the miracle crop of Africa. It grows well in poor quality soil and high temperatures, making it resistant to climate change. It requires little labor to grow.

Its roots are rich in carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. It is already a dietary staple throughout the continent, and it could feed more.

Cassava can also be used as an industrial starch to produce plywood, textiles and paper - something that experts say could change African economies and that countries like Nigeria are already beginning to invest in.

Deadly disease

But cassava diseases have been shortchanging farmers in Africa for a century.

One particularly deadly virus, Cassava Brown Streak Disease, began ravaging cassava fields in East Africa 10 years ago and has now moved as far west as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Brown streak disease is spread in two ways: by white flies, of which scientists say there are no shortage in affected countries, and by infected stem cuttings, which farmers use instead of seeds to plant their fields.

"The [brown streak] disease is not very obvious on the plant itself," explained Claude Fauquet, a plant virologist who heads the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century. "The plant is growing fairly well, but the disease is obvious on the roots when they harvest, but when they harvest, it's too late. So in short, there is really nothing that farmers can do and therefore solutions have to come from scientists and different organizations that would be capable of offering farmers virus-free material and to select, to breed material, genotypes of cassava that would be resistant to the disease."

Virus resistant

He said scientists have developed a strain of cassava that is resistant to the virus and are trying it out in Tanzania. They do that by either breeding existing virus-resistant strains together or genetically engineering new ones in the laboratory. They then must go village-by-village, getting farmers to plant that new super strain.

Fauquet said this approach has been successful against Cassava Mosaic Disease, also known as CMD. It is the most common cassava disease in Africa and it is all over the continent. But CMD primarily damages the cassava plant, not the root. A farmer can usually salvage some of his harvest.

Fauquet said that is not the case with brown streak disease.

"The roots are completely necrotic. Therefore farmers, they lose absolutely everything. So, the plant is growing," he said. "They work in the field, they weed. They spend a lot of energy and a year or 18 months later when they harvest, all the roots are present but they are necrotic, and therefore they cannot eat them, they cannot process them. They cannot even feed animals. Animals will refuse to eat them as well… You go from having a harvest to having no harvest in one cycle."

Experts say brown streak disease could cut cassava production in half on the continent. As many as 300 million Africans could be affected.

Fauquet said they must act fast to keep it from reaching West Africa where nearly every country, and in particular Nigeria, counts on the crop.

"You would have an explosion of the disease and maybe we would need a decade before we could respond and offer farmers solutions. So the magnitude of the problem would be gigantic, and therefore the idea is can we prevent this? Can we put in place a system to prevent and to monitor if there was an importation or a spread?" he said.

Fauquet said all it takes is one farmer sharing infected stem cuttings with another across the border or across the continent to accelerate the spread of the disease.

You May Like

UN: 1 Million Somalis at Risk of Hunger

Group warns region is in dire need of humanitarian aid, with at least 200,000 children under age of five acutely malnourished as drought hits southern, central part of nation More

Human Rights Groups Allege Supression of Freedoms in Thailand

Thailand’s military, police have suppressed release of independent report assessing human rights in kingdom during first 100 days of latest coup More

Jennifer Lawrence Contacts FBI After Nude Photos Hacked

'Silver Linings Playbook' actress' photos were posted on image-sharing forum 4chan; Federal Bureau of Investigations is looking into matter More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forcesi
X
September 02, 2014 12:58 PM
A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Internet, Technology Offer New Tools for Journalists

The Internet and rapidly evolving technology is quickly changing how people receive news and how journalists deliver it. There are now more ways to tell a story than ever before. One school in Los Angeles is teaching the next generation of journalists with the help of a state-of-the-art newsroom. Elizabeth Lee has this report.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

AppleAndroid