Cassava Makes a Comeback From Disease

After much news about high food prices and food insecurity, there's some good news about a main African staple. Cassava has made a major comeback.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says after years of massive crop failures caused by a virus and other diseases, farmers are now harvesting healthy plants – especially in Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda.

From Rome, Nebambi Lutaladio, a specialist in the FAO's plant production and protection division, spoke to VOA's Joe De Capua about the importance of the cassava comeback.

"This is a root crop. It ranks as one of the important food crops in sub-Saharan Africa and particularly in the…Great Lakes region, where it actually contributes to about 40 to 50 percent calorie intake. It is the main component of their daily menu of the middle class and the poor… This crop is grown for food, cash and other uses by millions of farmers. Many of them are women," he says.

Cassava, however, became the target is disease, which spread quickly. "Over the past…decade, a severe cassava disease, which is called Cassava Mosaic Virus Disease… And this disease has spread devastating the crop and had a very serious impact on the production."

In some areas, cassava production dropped by as much as 80 percent. Lutaladio says that the loss of cassava crops affected "the resilience of the people."

He says," Cassava is a survival or subsistence crop. They draw most of their dietary energy from that crop. If the basic crop is not there, then they tend not to be able to cope very well."
The FAO distributed virus-free planting material in Great Lakes countries to some 330,000 small-scale farmers. The result plentiful harvests, according to the FAO, have benefited over one and a half million people.

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