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U.S.$2 Million Bid to Fight Cassava Disease.

Dar es Salaam — Tanzania and Uganda are set to benefit from a US$2.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help the two countries fight cassava diseases and improve breeding varies.

Cassava feeds millions of people in sub Saharan Africa and some of its uses are not well tapped.

The money will specifically go towards identifying some cassava diseases and buying molecular markers for faster and more accurate breeding of cassava varieties that are resistant to Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD).

However, the grant has been directed to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and its partners, the Agricultural Research Institute (ARI), Tanzania, and the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda, have received the grant that may see cassava production increase.

The disease that is caused by the Cassava Brown Streak Virus (CBSV) and results in a dry rot in the tuberous roots rendering them inedible, is one of greatest threats to food security in sub-Saharan Africa, as cassava is an important staple food from which over 200 million people derive over 50% of their carbohydrate intake.

IITA and ARI have identified a few varieties with some level of resistance to the disease. The four-year project aims to identify the DNA markers associated with the resistance genes in these varieties and integrate marker-assisted selection into cassava breeding programs.

Marker-assisted breeding will enable the breeders to determine whether or not the desired genes of CBSD resistance have been successfully transferred from the parents to the offspring at the seedling stage using DNA testing. This will dramatically reduce the size of the working populations and the time taken to develop improved varieties. According to Dr. Morag Ferguson, an IITA scientist and team project leader, breeding for disease-resistant cassava is the most cost-effective and sustainable way to control the effects of the virus.

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