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Cassava farmers in Great Lakes facing double disease strike

Cassava farmers in the Great Lakes region are at risk of suffering losses following an outbreak of brown streak disease and cassava mosaic that are spread by white flies.

The spread of the two viral diseases in the region is causing major production losses and, in the most severely affected zones, acute food shortage.

Dr James Legg, a vector entomologist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said 11 countries in Central and Eastern Africa have been affected by cassava mosaic, which is caused by mosaic gemini viruses that are transmitted through infected planting material as well as by a whitefly vector.

Dr Legg said the disease might have started in the Democratic Republic of Congo and spread through the region but was not established because of lack of continuous research in DRC.

Other strategies

Athough the two diseases were first detected in the coastal areas of Kenya Tanzania and Mozambique in 1930, a new brown streak was discovered by researchers in Uganda in 2004.

“It’s not like we were not aware of the disease totally. We were; that is why we have other strategies, like improving our intelligence through monitoring, and that enables us to predict what might be the next effect of the viruses,” he said.

According to Dr Legg, other attack strategies include sharing of the best variety through regional exchange.

Here, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) ensures the stems are disease-free before they are transported from one country to another.

The symptoms of the diseases include drying of the plant’s stem and roots and yellowing of the roots.

About 70 per cent of the harvested cassava in Mwanza Kagera and Mara regions is affected by the disease before being processed, therefore decreasing its price both at the local and international market.

Promoting production

The other districts that have been affected by the diseases in the lake zone regions include Chato Biharamulo and Muleba Ukerewe Musoma Bunda and Sengerema.

The diseases have emerged ahead of the $5.3 million funding project financed by the IITA with the aim of promoting cassava production in the next two years.

John Msemo, co-ordinator of Unleashing the Power of Cassava in Africa at IITA, says the fund is targetted more than 15,000 farmers around the country for the new cassava breed pilot project.

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