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2-Plants: Virus-resistant cassava developed first by regional, conventional breeding

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TITLE:  Relief for Africa's staple crop
SOURCE: International Agricultural Development 19(2)
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DATE:   March/April 1999

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Relief for Africa's staple crop

Scientists in Nigeria and Uganda are confident that they have won the battle against cassava mosaic disease (CMD), which has been wreaking havoc throughout Africa's cassava belt over the last decade. Years of research by the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Uganda's National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), international research partners, nongovernmental agencies, and farmers have paid off with the development of cassava varieties which are resistant to the disease. These are now being disseminated.

For a decade, the disease has been destroying vast tracts of cassava. In Western Kenya alone conservative estimates of losses of revenue as the epidemic raged have been placed at 150,000 tonnes per annum, equivalent to US$ 15 million. In Uganda, the viral infection swept the fields at an astonishing speed of 20 km per year, gaining momentum with every passing year. Fields in the West Nile districts and the Northern ad Central regions were destroyed with impunity.

The cassava materials which tamed the mosaic monsters were developed by IITA and NARO at Namulonge and Serere Reseach Stations in Uganda. Over the years, wild relatives of cassava and African landraces have contributed genes for resistance. These were incorporated into the breeding populations, which produced offspring with the good resistance to CMD. A bonus has been resistance to the cassava green mite in some of the new varieties. Four varieties resistant to CMD are available now, and a further ten more resistant varieties are to be released soon. Rapidly multiplying up planting material of these resistant varieties has been a crucial factor in combating CMD.

IITA's cassava research in Uganda was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. IITA, in colaboration with national agricultural research systems, NGOs, and the private sector, is setting up marketing information systems and developing processing sites for farmers to add value to their cassava. The integration of cassava improvement, disease monitoring, and processing will continue to provide sustainable solutions for the resource-limited cassaca farmers in Ugannda and the wider region.


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