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Nov 16, 2011

East Africa Cassava Virus Verges on Epidemic

On 16 November 2011 the FAO issued a press release highlighting the urgent need to find a solution to prevent Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD).  This virus is on the verge of epidemic proportions, especially in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa.  Cassava is a staple food crop in Africa.  CBSD, coupled with another virus, Casava Mosaic Disease (CMD) is seriously threatening indigenous African food supplies.  Cassava might account for up to one third of the total calorie intake for people in Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the FAO, Rwanda's National Agricultural Research Institute estimated that in 2010 there was a "15.7 percent rate of infection on local varieties and 36.9 percent in improved varieties."

Jan Helsen, leader of the FAO's EU funded Regional Cassava Initiative in Eastern and Central Africa notes that "we urgently need to get information on the extent and severity of the outbreak, and to support investments to identify disease-tolerant varieties and coping strategies for farmers."

CBSD is often hard to identify because a healthy plant may have infected roots and this is not detected until harvest time.  The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has been on the ground working to eradicate CBSD and CMD.  They have developed 8 cassava varieties that are resistant to CMD and have some tolerance to CBSD.

Training is also being provided to farmers to teach them how to identify and remove infected plants.  Since 2006, the FAO has been working with Catholic Relief Services to provide virus-free plants to farmers.  They are also conducting surveys on the extent of both the CBSD and CMD viruses, especially in Rwanda, Burundi, and Democratic Republic of Congo.  This work is funded by the European Union and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For more see: "Cassava virus on verge of epidemic in East Africa," FAO Press Release, 16 Nov. 2011.

About Margaret


CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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