New cassava disease alarms farmers

A new cassava disease that has been reported in the Eastern Africa region is already affecting Rwandan farmers, leading to a reduction in cassava and potatoes output in the country. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) yesterday reported that Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) is on the verge of becoming an epidemic, calling for an urgent increase in funding, research, training, surveillance and other measures to help farmers and breeders.
A cassava farm in Bugesera District. The new disease could deal a major blow to the crop’s output this season.
A cassava farm in Bugesera District. The new disease could deal a major blow to the crop’s output this season.

A new cassava disease that has been reported in the Eastern Africa region is already affecting Rwandan farmers, leading to a reduction in cassava and potatoes output in the country.

Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) yesterday reported that Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) is on the verge of becoming an epidemic, calling for an urgent increase in funding, research, training, surveillance and other measures to help farmers and breeders.

According to research, the virus is prevalent in a large part of East Africa, especially in the Great Lakes Region, putting a crucial source of food and income at risk, according to FAO.

Gervais Ndashaka, a cassava expert at the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), confirmed to The New Times that, though the disease had first been reported in various regional countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, it was finally spotted in part of the Eastern Province.

“We have this disease and it has affected parts of Bugesera and Nyagatare districts and is spreading to other areas of the country. Where a farm is affected, production rate reduces by at least 20 percent,” he said.

He revealed that the virus was first detected in 2009, but at a small scale, noting that it has now spread, adding that it might cause food insecurity if it is not contained.

Ndashaka further mentioned that they had embarked on sensitisation campaigns to inform all farmers about the virus as well as introduction of new types of resistant cassava varieties to aid in wiping out the disease.

Some of the symptoms of the virus are the yellowing of cassava leaves from the normal green colour.

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 species.

According to Jan Helsen, head of FAO's European Union-funded Regional Cassava Initiative in Eastern and Central Africa, there was need to invest in research to ascertain the real information concerning the disease.

“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,” he is quoted in a statement as saying.

Reports indicate that one of the challenges facing those trying to stem the spread of CBSD is its timely detection thus causing its continued spread.

Cassava accounts for as much as a third of the total calorie intake for people in countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and DRC.

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