Farmers with harvested cassava

Cassava virus on verge of epidemic in East Africa

16/11/2011

Experts urge funding, swift action to protect staple food crop - A new variant of a cassava disease is affecting large parts of East Africa, especially in the area's Great Lakes Region, putting a crucial source of food and income at risk, according to FAO.

FAO experts say Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) is on the verge of becoming an epidemic, and have called for an urgent increase in funding, research, training, surveillance and other measures to help farmers and breeders. The appearance of the disease in previously unaffected areas, and the lack of continued funding for research and development work to address CBSD in the region, have added to the threat already presented by Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD).

In Rwanda, a surveillance analysis conducted by the National Agricultural Research Institute in 2010 showed a 15.7 percent rate of infection on local varieties and 36.9 percent in improved varieties. None of the cassava varieties currently being distributed to farmers seem to be tolerant to the effects of CBSD.

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, said Jan Helsen, leader of FAO's European Union-funded Regional Cassava Initiative in Eastern and Central Africa.