NSP - Programme-review

Situation analysis

Malawi - farmer hoeing cassava plants. Credit: FAO/J. Spaull

In early 2009, FAO conducted a regional review of the work on cassava diseases. The review identified areas for improvement to ensure a more holistic approach in efforts to combat cassava diseases. The analysis focused mainly on cause and effects associated with immediate production constraints, which affect food availability, and ultimately food security. 

Effect 1: Heightened crop susceptibility due to a range of poor field practices

Evidence of poor field practices was found in each of the countries studied – including the use of premature cuttings and poor field sanitation among others - and in most cases the farmers could not relate this to their expected yields. The human resource constraints within the public extension services where one extension officer is responsible for between 2000 and 5000 farm families means that many of the farmers growing cassava do not have access to advice on basic agronomic practices; extension services in any case tend to focus on ‘high potential’ crops other than cassava. Farmer adoption rates of new improved varieties are low with the result that disease spreads unchecked; this can also be linked to their not often being involved in selecting varieties for multiplication. Good crop planting techniques were not practiced on the sandy soils of lakeside region of Malawi. Spacing of plants in a cassava plot was the same as for maize, the crop on which extension agents were most active. Cassava growing districts tend to be the more remote ones which may heighten this sense of isolation; infrastructure investments would solve part of the problem of remoteness (beyond the scope of the programme), but redesign and introduction of incentives for delivery of good quality cassava-related extension services in these areas should also be considered by the appropriate authorities.

Effect 2: High levels of movement of diseases

Cassava cuttings being transported by bicycle in Burundi. Credit: FAO/G. Napolitano

The free movement of vegetative material within the countries and across borders accelerates the spread of disease. Though often carried in small quantities which do not attract attention of the authorities, the numerous movements are sufficient load to create nuclei of disease spread. This was specifically observed on the DRC-Burundi-Rwanda-Tanzania border. More conscious local movement included the deliberate introduction of preferred varieties found elsewhere, without realising the risk such movements pose (seen in Tanzania from the coast to the Lake Zone; also the specific introduction of the variety Mbundumali from Malawi to Zambia). In Burundi advanced refugees scout out locations to settle, and then others arrive with planting materials, equipment, operating outside the official resettlement programme. Ultimately the cause of some of this movement is civil disorder (beyond the scope of this programme). The main arm in countering it is probably not through policing (internal quarantine is notoriously difficult to implement) but better awareness of the risk, coupled with increased availability of improved planting material to avoid the necessity to transport informally.

Effect 3: Disjointed and isolated efforts

Many development partners, research organisations, NGOs and national authorities are currently involved in efforts to control EACMV and CBSV, but this is often not well-coordinated. In practical terms, the lack of coordination shows up in terms of (i) gaps and overlaps in the location of multiplication sites, (ii) multiplication of wrong varieties, (iii) contradictory technical messages being given to farmers, (iv) conflicting targeting criteria, etc. The problem is both communication and planning/ensuring the technical quality of the work of many different actors

In the case of CBSV, the current geographical range of disease spread already reaches beyond the scope of the FAO-EC and GLCI projects. For instance, the neighbouring states known to be affected include Malawi, Angola, Zambia and Mozambique, none of which are currently covered by a programme, although local NGOs are engaged in cassava promotion in the southern part of Zambia.

Effect 4: Poor or lacking campaigns on disease awareness

FAO staff at work in the field demonstrating healthy cassava plant management. Credit: FAO/G. Napolitano

It was clear that a number of the farmers encountered were unaware of the diseases; particularly CBSV, due to the absence of symptoms on leaves and stem. There were few signs of leaflets, posters or the other items commonly associated with public awareness campaigns. This situation of low awareness is partly the result of long term under-investment in extension, of a lack of documentation and sharing of practices, of a lack of a strong coordinated lead by the authorities. It can only partly be compensated for by piecemeal efforts at publicity and communication by the various NGOs and international agencies involved. The fact that researchers but not farmers are aware of the threat of CBSV may be a symptom of weak research-extension linkages in some of the countries in the region.

Effect 5: Absence of early warning or monitoring systems

Facilities and structures for collecting, collating, analysing and interpreting disease-related information do not appear to be functional in the states covered so far. Without data, early warning of impending risks cannot be provided to the concerned groups of farmers and communities growing cassava, and there is no scope for preventive action in terms of planting and/or choice of variety. To date there has been little systematised record keeping on disease occurrence or information transmission to a central point for collation, analysis and interpretation . Further the associated logistical support - bicycle, motorcycles, fuel for frontline agents to cover their respective zones of supervision - are usually not available. Consequently, the intention (or mandate) to monitor disease situation may exist but, in practice, inadequate resources undermine this objective. In the absence of effective data collection, effective channels for the transmission of warning messages locally, based on data analysis, are also missing.

Effect 6: Potential for multiplication of infected and susceptible varieties

Cutting stems at a cassava multiplication site. Credit: FAO/C. Ferrand

The very low multiplication rate, bulkiness, and high perishability of cassava planting materials make their multiplication and distribution more expensive than conventional (grain-based) seed services. Consequently, farmers do not care to specifically multiply stems but use the stems that come as a secondary product from a normal cassava root production field. Thus, the stem is not targeted and as such any variety cultivated for their use is the source of their stems. In an IITA study in Southern Sudan, about 85 percent of all cassava stems come from the field of the farmers themselves or their neighbour or relatives of the farmers. At the same time subsistence farmers usually do not have the means to pay for planting material. The private sector has not participated in the multiplication and supply of cassava for these reasons. There is a need to encourage the development of a limited local private sector – encouraging the involvement of progressive farmers or former field school participants in the local production and distribution of cassava planting materials could be a means of insuring the cassava production system (against future disease threats) and serve as a local form of agricultural extension/self-help service.

There is a need to extend the geographical coverage of existing plans for multiplication of planting material beyond that covered by the two ongoing large programmes by FAO and CRS. The current spread of the disease far exceeds the capacity of existing mitigation plans. Field action is limited to a few districts where the available resources are used according to donor-approved budgets; not all areas of the countries involved are covered. The presence of cross boundary movement of stem and products (referred to above) is an indicator of local shortages of planting materials. Projects and programmes should aim to intensify local stem supply arrangements.

Problem tree analysis of cassava dependent vulnerable populations

It is possible to organise the very diverse set of findings from the programme review into a problem tree, presenting observed effects and drawing out the underlying causes (to varying degrees). In this analysis, the focus is mainly on cause and effects associated with immediate production constraints, which affect food availability, and ultimately food security. Click on the image to enlarge.