Cassava has a big problem in Africa, and it is called brown streak virus. A virulent strain is spreading rapidly across eastern and southern Africa from a beachhead in Zanzibar, devastating the tubers but leaving the leaves looking healthy, which means farmers don’t realize anything is wrong until it is too late. Scientists from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) have been studying the virus and have developed resistant varieties, by conventional breeding, and these are finding their way to farmers.
There’s a short SciDev piece about brown streak virus which points to a longer, very readable New Scientist article. I know we’re talking about a very serious problem and a very nice solution based on the exploitation of agricultural biodiversity, but normally I wouldn’t blog about this sort of thing, simply because there are so many similar examples out there. But I was inspired to do so on this occasion because I also spotted an article in a Ugandan newspaper (via the wonderful allAfrica.com) which talks about the resistant varieties and efforts to get sufficient planting material of these cultivars into the hands of farmers in a particular district. It’s always nice to see “big” stories from international news sources reflected in the local media.
Cassava is an important constituent of Kinshasa’s urban gardens, whose role in providing nutrition, especially to children, is so well described in a Christian Science Monitor article today. Let’s hope brown streak virus doesn’t reach Kinshasa, but if it does the resistant varieties would find a ready means of dissemination through a project which “organized a team of local volunteers called “Mama Bongisa” (‘mom improver’) to teach mothers in some … impoverished neighborhoods about nutrition and farming.”