‘Farmers Need To Plant Disease –Resistant Cassava’ | Independent Newspapers Limited
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CEO Interview

‘Farmers Need To Plant Disease –Resistant Cassava’

Posted: Jul 19, 2016 at 4:27 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Dr. Angela Eni is a virologist; she is of the Department of Biological Sciences at the Covenant University, Ota. She is also the Team Leader and Coordinator of the West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE). WAVE recently organsied a sensitisation programme for cassava farmers in Lagos to sensitise them on the emerging cassava brown steak virus. After the programme she spoke with Seyi Taiwo-Oguntuase on how the virus is transmitted and what can be done by farmers to ensure that the virus is not found in Nigeria. Excerpt.


What is cassava brown streak virus all about. Tell us the mode of transmission and if there is any possible laboratory test to detect the virus and what are the ways of mitigating the spread of the virus, especially now that it has not been found in Nigeria?

This afternoon we are talking about Cassava Brown Streak Virus (CBSV) which is sort of concern for West Africa, because right now we are reporting that the virus is not in West Africa but it is ravaging cassava in East and Central Africa and moving gradually westward because it has been reported in DRC, and Cameroun is very next to DRC which is next to Nigeria. So we are trying to create awareness, this virus is transmitted because it is a virus and the crop we are talking about is vegetatively cultivated.

Primarily, the transmission is through planting materials; infected cassava cuttings, when we use those for planting. Then we have also one that is vector borne, the white flies transmit it. Unfortunately, this white fly also transmit other diseases although we have the white flies in Nigeria but the virus is not present here, just like we have mosquitoes elsewhere but you don’t have plasmodium in those places and so they don’t transmit plasmodium and people don’t get malaria that is what we have now.

What are we doing in Nigeria about it?

What we are doing in Nigeria is to look at farms, talk to farmers, and create awareness. When we go to farms, we take samples to the laboratories. There are Standard Molecular Techniques, it is RNA virus, we do RNA extraction and then we screen that RNA that we have extracted with specific climax that will bind and amplify only the RNA that is complementary to it.

We mainly do a standard and reliable specific test for Cassava Brown Streak Virus and we are running those tests, even some samples that we collected from the field that we are not seeing symptoms we want to say authoritatively that we have checked and cassava brown streak virus is not in Nigeria and in West Africa, that is what we are doing right now.

Conducting test is the best way of mitigation for all viruses. Exclusion first of all, exclusion means you don’t allow the virus to come in, what we are saying is interchange of cuttings of cassava planting materials must be screened appropriately.

What equipment do you need to do this?

Our quarantine offices need to be equipped to screen for these viruses, our laboratories must be functional, and then there must be training for the people who are going to carry out these tests and we must also ensure that the Nigerian factor doesn’t come. The Nigerian factor is where people give you money and you let things pass, that is the killer. All materials must be screened and anything found wanting must be rejected.

But where it does happen and we find it, then what will happen is we will do what we call containment, this is where you grow the varieties that are not susceptible to the virus around the place where you find it and when the virus cannot find a host to infect, it dies off on its own.

Are you concentrating on any variety?

What we are doing as regards to this is to take farmer’s preferred varieties planting materials, the reason is because there are some cassava that are good for ‘lafun’, others are good for ‘garri’ they have different properties, textural properties, so we are taking different cassava varieties that farmers prefer to grow and we are putting then in fields in East Africa where this virus exists, we are screening to find if we have any natural resistance already in our varieties. If we find for example that one or two of the varieties are resistant, then we know what to do. We are doing this screening for all the varieties across the country and anywhere we have a sighting of cassava brown streak we are going to place every farmers around that vicinity, a certain perimeter on a model that our modeling team will come out with and ask them to plant the resistance variety. The idea is if you are short off all susceptible varieties, then the virus will die off on its own and not spread.

You advised farmers to use clean planting materials, what do you mean by this?

For some of the other viruses that we know, they can see the symptoms, they know when their plant is infected, they will know some that are in that field that will not get infected irrespective of the vectors there. They need to identify those ones and ensure that they take cuttings for the next planting season from the ones that are not infected. that is one. Also, sometimes they are infected but they seem not infected in that case we prefer resistant varieties. So we are working with breeders to continue to breed from resistant ones because some resistant genre has been found from cassava mosaic, not cassava brown streak, we are just going to start the screening in East African now.

Talking about selecting only the clean ones, won’t there be anything ongoing to actually kill the vector itself or to probably neutralize the transmission?

There is a lot of whitefly work going on, in fact there is so much going on. We have different experts working on so many things, there is a huge whiteflies project that has just started last year, they are doing a lot of work but beyond that, the while fly is transmitted but the primary root of transmission is through planting materials. We re-use our planting materials because this crop is vegetatively propagated. For cassava brown streak, a lot of work needs to be done, it is where we are starting from, and we are getting planting materials from the North Africa to the East Africa for screening.

What is WAVE all about?

The West African Virus Epidemiology for Root and Tuber Crops project was founded in late 2014 and the implementation started in 2015 by the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation. There were some activities that we did not include, like going to farms to screen our farmers’ varieties in East Africa. Department for International Development of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (DFID) UK and the Global Development Program of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), United States of America (USA) put some money together in 2016 and gave us a supplemental fund even though we still have money but they wanted us to increase the activities. We are running primarily, first to find out and get the baseline data on the situation of virus disease in root and tuber crop particularly in cassava in West Africa. We are working in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Burkina Faso primarily these are the West African countries that are part of WAVE. We are doing outreach programme to what we call our gateway countries, countries that are nearest to East Africa, through which we can get this virus. We are doing outreach to countries like Republic of Congo and Cameroun to find out what is going on there as a way of knowing how to protect ourselves. What we are doing is a lot of fieldwork, we are working with farmers, looking at their fields, seeing what is there and taking materials back to the laboratories for laboratories analysis. We are creating awareness like the meeting we just had, let farmers know what to look out for, create proper avenue for them to report back rapidly, then we are taking materials out to East Africa to screen.

Then the modeling team in University of Cambridge is working to create models that will help us advise in case there is a sighting. When we have those resistant varieties how do we distribute them, where are the strategic places based on the information we gathered from the field analysis, then we will strategically place them in the right places. We are working with major government stakeholders, we want them carried along, if for example if there is a sighting of cassava brown streak, you go an clear a farm, that farmer need to be compensated, who will compensate them, it is the government, we are creating a lot of awareness, talking to the government, making them aware of what we are doing and they know. I think nobody in government now which is affiliated in any way to agriculture that will say they don’t know about cassava brown streak they know. So those are the things WAVE is doing currently.

However the aim of this programme is to ensure a clear understanding of the virus threat of roots and tuber crops in West Africa, we are also equipping breeders with accurate information needed for identification and deployment of resistant or tolerant root and tuber crops.

What other thing are you doing?

We are also strengthening national and regional capacity to respond to these threats, while we facilitate the demands and availability of clean planting materials as a component of integrated management of root and tuber crop viruses.

WAVE also ensures that we give accurate information for identification and deployment of resistant root and tuber crops in use by West African breeders

Aside Lagos State which other state have you taken the awareness programme to?

In the awareness creation, we did a field survey for cassava farms in 12 states and FCT last year, my 12-state that is the mandate of the Covenant University hub of this project are all the South Western states and the North Central states and the FCT, so 13 FCT is not a state, the South East and South South states will be covered by the National Root Crop Research Institute, they are carrying out exactly the same activity. We have harmonized protocols for everything we are doing, then North East and North West are being handled by the Kebbi State University of Science and Technology.

What other emerging disease are we to look out for apart from cassava brown streak, you mentioned that there are other tuber crops like yam and potatoes that are also being affected by other viruses?

Currently, in this first phase of the project we are concentrating on cassava for Nigeria, and the major problem is this cassava brown streak because it is causing a huge problem in East Africa. There is also the Uganda variance; we have the Africa mosaic virus in Nigeria. The Uganda variance has been reported in some places it is more severe, but we are not having such severe thing here, we are just working to ensure that cassava brown streak doesn’t get in here.

Secondly we are also working with breeders. We need to be sure that our breeders are not just selecting for bigger size, they are also selecting from virus resistance along with the selection for size of the tubers.

What is your advice for Nigerian farmers concerning this virus?

My advice for the Nigerians farmers is that we need to be at alert. I want to congratulate them; I want to salute their courage for continuing in the face of various challenges. Nigerian farmers need a lot of support from the government, we are beginning to see promises and we are hoping that those promises come true, we want our farmers also to embrace technology, that is why we are coming down to work with them, if we develop technology on our own without them, they can’t adapt those technology easily, we want to see agriculture grow just like we have in other develop nations because agricultural is a major driver of the economy that is what we want to see.