International partnership makes progress to develop product for African farmers
An international research collaboration recently demonstrated progress in protecting cassava against cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), a serious virus disease, in a confined field trial in Uganda using an RNA interference technology. The field trial was planted in November 2010 following approval by the National Biosafety Committee of Uganda. The plants were harvested in November 2011 and results were published in the August 1, 2012 issue of the journal Molecular Plant Pathology . These results point researchers in the right direction as they develop virus-resistant cassava varieties preferred by farmers in Eastern Africa.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 250 million people derive at least 25 percent of their daily calorie intake from the starchy cassava tuberous roots. In the East African countries of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi and Malawi, 63 percent of households also sell cassava products to earn income for their families. It is estimated that in the next 15 years, cassava will constitute the second most important source of income for more than 125 million people in East Africa.
Cassava brown streak disease is a major problem because it destroys the edible tuberous roots, but visual symptoms on leaves and stems are sometimes difficult to detect. This means unexpected losses for farmers at harvest, with potential devastating impact on families that depend on cassava for food security. Since farmers preserve cassava cuttings in the fields for the next crop, the disease is passed on to the next growing season. Around the Lake Victoria region in Uganda, where an epidemic of the disease is rapidly spreading, many farmers have been forced to abandon the cultivation of cassava. The urgency posed by this disease demands that appropriate tools be employed and interventions applied to solve the problem.