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‘Nigeria may lose $2b yearly to cassava viral disease’


cassava 1IN its efforts to check diseases affecting crops, Nigeria’s foremost root crops research institute, the National Roots Crop Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, Abia State, has launched another project tagged West African Virus Epidemiological (WAVE) project.

NRCRI has the statutory mandate for genetic improvement of root and tuber crops of economic importance and carrying research into the farming systems of South East Agro-ecological zone.

The institute’s Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Julius Okonkwo said that NRCRI is collaborating with five other West African countries namely; Benin, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo and Burkina Faso in the WAVE project, which he said, “is aimed at increasing the productivity and yield stability of root and tuber crops in the six countries through a shared understanding, coordination and management of viral diseases in the focus areas.”

During the project launch at the NRCRI Library, which was attended by the Project Regional Coordinator, Dr. Justin Pita, the project coordinators of the five collaborating countries and the representatives of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, there were fears of possible spread of the Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) to Nigeria which has the potential to cause the nation about $2 million loss yearly.

The WAVE Project launch also featured the presentation of the NRCRI position paper on the CBSD titled “NRCRI Pre-emptive Initiative to the CBSD Threat in Nigeria” by the Coordinator Dr. Joseph Onyeka.

The paper expressed fears that the CBSD, which is a viral disease, poses threat to Nigeria’s cassava production, hence it spreads rapidly through infected planting materials.

And that because of its effect on cassava roots, CBSD could result in complete loss of root yield thus making it a severe threat to food security in sub-Saharan Africa. Hence, it has become one of the two notable diseases of cassava, the other being Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD).

Although CBSD has not been reported in Nigeria, “it has invaded Uganda, moved around the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya and Tanzania and now entered DR Congo from where it seems poised to move right across sub-Saharan Africa.”

According to the NRCRI position paper, “CBSD is highly damaging, causing up to 70 percent loss in root weight of infected plants and rotting of tubers and thus severely affecting root quality for both domestic use and marketing.

“The disease is a viral threat to the livelihoods of the millions of poor people in sub-Saharan Africa. It is envisaged that without pre-emptive control measures, the disease is likely to advance into Nigeria and other countries in the West Coast.

“There is no known widely cultivated cassava variety in Nigeria that is resistant to CBSD, thus further heightening the potential threat of the disease.”

In view of Nigeria’s position as the world’s leading cassava producer, the accidental introduction of the disease to Nigeria could cause a devastating food crisis in Nigeria with severe consequences on the economy.

It was stated that “based on projected economic loss due to the CBSD in other countries, the spread of the disease to Nigeria could cost the economy about $2 billion annually with a crippling effect on the agricultural sector and severe damage to the cassava industry.”

On the NRCRI Pre-emptive Initiative to CBSD, the position paper stated that, “under several projects on biotic stress and the cassava breeding community of practice, research activities led by NRCRI involving Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda and also collaborative partnership with International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), Cornel University USA and Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre USA were initiated to rapidly use molecular materials to develop improved cassava varieties combining both CBSD and CMD resistance for improved productivity in Africa.

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