Action to Stem Cassava Virus

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is urging swift
action to tackle a cassava virus that is affecting large parts of East Africa
and threatening a staple food crop for much of the region.

The Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), a new variant that is particularly
affecting countries in the Great Lakes region, is on the verge of becoming an
epidemic, according to a news
release issued today by the Rome-based FAO.

The agency has 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),” stated the age
ncy.

Cassava can account for as much as a third of the total calorie intake for
people in countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic
of the Congo (DRC).

Surveillance conducted by Rwanda’s National Agricultural Research Institute in
2010 showed a 15.7 per cent rate of infection on local varieties and 36.9 per
cent in improved varieties.

“None of the cassava varieties currently being distributed to farmers seem to be
tolerant to the effects of CBSD,” said Jan Helsen, leader of FAO’s European
Union-funded Regional Cassava Initiative in Eastern and Central Africa.

“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.”

FAO noted that timely detection of the disease has been a challenge because it
manifests itself in different ways depending on local conditions. An apparently
healthy plant may be found to have spoiled roots only whe
n harvested.

The agency is calling for short-term measures such as stepping up disease
surveillance and conducting regular inspections increasing the sensitization of
communities to the threat of CBSD and using hands-on training for farmers.

It is also recommending a ban on the distribution of infected plants between
districts and zones, and, in the event of infection, using coping strategies
such as the early harvest of cassava, before symptoms appear and significant
damage can be done.

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