Advancing the fight against cassava diseases in Africa
How to create a “game-changing” vision for cassava disease control in Africa and other regions of the developing world, making the starchy root a climate-stable super crop, capable of feeding millions more people by 2050. This is the challenge that brought together about 40 cassava scientists from 13 African countries and from the most important organizations working on cassava with representatives of the Plant Protection Platform (3P) of CIRAD (French Agricultural Research for Development) for a workshop held in mid-June at St-Pierre on the island of Réunion, off the eastern coast of Africa.
The main objectives of the 4-day event were to establish a pan-African surveillance network for viral and bacterial diseases of cassava, present the work of the Plant Protection Platform on cassava disease control, and also examine 3P’s role as an international transit site for the international exchange of certified pathogen-free cassava materials. The meeting was organized under the leadership of the CIAT-hosted Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st century (GCP21) with CIRAD, IRD (French Institute of Research for Development), the Agropolis Foundation, and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.
Cassava production in sub-Saharan Africa represents a vital source of food and income for smallholder farmers, particularly women, and accounts more than 55% of global output. But the crop is seriously threatened by bacterial and viral diseases in Africa, and efforts to tackle these require better coordination to be fully effective. To this end, GCP21 formed a global alliance of cassava experts at a meeting held last year in Bellagio, Italy, which resulted in the development of a strategic action plan, known as the “Bellagio road map”. The workshop in Réunion represents an important step toward putting this plan into action, with the first stages focusing on surveillance and control of cassava diseases in Africa.
CIAT was represented in the event by GCP21 director Claude Fauquet and virologist Wilmer Cuellar. Fauquet’s presentation summarized the outcomes of last year’s meeting and the objectives of the mid-June workshop. Cuellar’s presentation focused on a diagnostic strategy that aims to detect at early stages virus infections that are spread through cuttings and that may accumulate during successive cassava growing seasons. “As a first step we will exchange diagnostic protocols used in different countries with the aim to standardize the detection and characterization of viruses infecting cassava. A combination of new and classic virus diagnostic methods will contribute importantly to an efficient exchange of disease-free cassava germplasm between countries” said Cuellar.