BY LILIAN OCHIENG’
A Kenyan research organization has been awarded a grant worth US $ 100, 000 to expand research on genetic resistance to Cassava Brown Streak disease and cassava mosaic disease in Africa.
Cassava Brown Streak and Mosaic diseases have devastated crops across East and Central Africa and the grant will go a long way in aiding cassava disease research to rid the disease in the region. The Bio Science Eastern and Central Africa- International Livestock Research Institute (BecA- ILRI) hub was awarded the grant by Illumina Agricultural Greater Good initiative, a developer of science tools based in San Diego United States.
Donations were made in form of structural reagents that would aid Cassava disease research, assist in training scientists at the hub and also explore other emerging cassava diseases. The two targeted diseases have caused large crop loss and limited production of cassava an important drought tolerant staple crop across Sub Saharan Africa.
According to Apollinaire Djikeng, interim Director of BecA – ILRI, potential crop viruses will also be investigated under the grant. “It is important to note that there are other emerging cassava diseases caused by viruses other than those known to cause cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease,” Djikeng said in his speech during the release of awards at the 21st International Plant and Animal Genome conference in San Diego, last month.
He added that a lot of research has been done on developing disease-resistant cassava but the BecA-ILRI Hub is focusing on diagnosing crop diseases which will in turn potentially contribute to more successful breeding of resistant varieties.
Willis Kosura Oluoch, professor of agricultural economics at Kenya’s University of Nairobi, applauded the move by the San Diego US research organization to award the timely grants saying that they will give Kenyan researchers the confidence to continue working on the cassava crop, which he says has huge potential to lift millions out of poverty in Eastern Africa.
“Cassava has been neglected in the past and yet there are arid and semi-arid areas where they could thrive, if scientific innovations are promoted. This can relieve the huge population from poverty and hunger as well as dependence on food aid”, he said. The reagents will also be used to accelerate research in identifying virus-resistant genes in cassava through gene expression studies and the analysis of sequence variation.
Skills gained through the year of training are hoped to be transferred from the hub to national African agricultural groups so that they can be assimilated at grassroots levels. The move to train African agricultural groups at grassroots levels on cassava resistant genes using the funds addresses the needs of farmers especially in Kenya who have for decades suffered setbacks in Cassava farming owing to the deadly Cassava Mosaic disease.
Cassava was recently singled out in Kenya as an alternative source of food and income under an initiative to commercial crops. Farmers in parts of Kenya complained of the setback posed in cassava farming when crops are attacked by diseases such as mosaic disease rendering the crop farming as an unprofitable venture. National Council for Science and Technology, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and Edgerton University in an initiative to enhance Cassava
value addition and marketing has also trained farmers on the crop management and how to identify disease tolerant varieties.
Some farmer groups drawn to the project by the three organizations include Menengai, Ngecha, Kiamunyi kilimo Hifadhiand Ogilgei.