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Tanzanian Government and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launch three new initiatives to tackle deadly cassava diseases

March 1, 2013

Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFC) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on 9th November 2012 launched three new projects in support of efforts to develop cassava varieties resistant to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and to establish more sustainable seed systems to enable smallholder farmers better access to such varieties.

The Cassava Varieties and Clean Seed to Combat CBSD and CMD (5CP) project will facilitate sharing of five of the best varieties from Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Uganda for regional testing across the countries to speed up the development of varieties with dual resistance to the two diseases. The project, led by International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), will further pilot a clean seed system in Tanzania to produce virus-tested cassava planting material for multiplication by either local communities or seed entrepreneurs for sale to farmers.

“The most effective and realistic approach to reducing losses to CMD and CBSD is the development and deployment of varieties that have dual resistance to the two diseases", says Edward Kanju, IITA cassava breeder and team leader of the 5CP project. "Researchers in the five countries have made good progress towards this end and many varieties have been released or are in the pipeline. By facilitating the sharing of their best varieties, we ensure that farmers get the best varieties from the region."

A second project being implemented by the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), Commercially Sustainable Quality Assured Cassava Seed System, will develop and test supply chain models for the distribution of the newly released cassava varieties. This project will work on building the capacity of seed entrepreneurs to produce disease-free cassava planting material to be sold to farmers and to facilitate strong linkages between these entrepreneurs and the producers of breeder and foundation-level planting material.

The third project, Community Action in Controlling Cassava Brown Streak Disease through Clean Seed, will implement a community-based approach for managing and controlling CBSD. Led by the Department of Research and Development (DRD) at the Ministry of Agriculture, the project will be piloted in two of the major cassava-growing zones of Tanzania--Muleba and Chato Districts in the Lake Zone and Mkuranga and Kisarawe Districts in the Eastern Zone. “Since we now have more knowledge on how CBSD is spread, we will actively engage the farmers in managing and controlling CBSD at the farm level. We will conduct training on the disease, its causes, symptoms, and how they can keep their farms disease free,” says Dr Kiddo Mtunda, this project’s lead researcher.

All three projects will work with the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) to ensure that only disease-free planting material is disseminated and to develop a financially viable and sustainable approach to certification of planting material. The results from the three projects will provide lessons for scaling-out in countries in East, Central, and Southern Africa that are also grappling with the two diseases.

This story is adapted from an article written by Isa Chuki published in Africa Science News.

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