A new variant of cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) is on the verge of becoming an epidemic in large parts of East Africa. This is endangering a crucial source of food and income, said the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
A 2010 study by Rwanda’s National Agricultural Research Institute found 15,7% of local cassava varieties and 36,9% of improved varieties there are already infected.
“None of the varieties currently distributed to farmers seem to be tolerant of the effects of CBSD,” warned Jan Helsen, leader of FAO’s EU-funded Regional Cassava Initiative in Eastern and Central Africa.
“We urgently need information on the extent and severity of the outbreak, and to support investments to identify disease-tolerant varieties and coping strategies.” The disease manifests in different ways depending on local conditions. In some cases, symptoms show only on the roots, and are only discovered after harvesting.
CBSD is also appearing in previously unaffected areas. Lack of funding for research to address it is adding to the threat already presented by Cassava Mosaic Disease. Cassava can account for as much as a third of the total calorie intake for people in countries such as Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda or the DRC. – Staff reporter