Written by Isa Chuki
Africa’s food security situation is increasingly getting compromised by plant viruses, Dr Elly Kafiriti, the Director of the Naliendele Research Institute said Monday while opening the 12th International Plant Virus Epidemiology (IPVE) symposium, in Arusha, Tanzania.
He noted the negative impact of plant viruses on food security in the continent where they were fueled by poor agronomic practices of resource-poor small-holder farmers.
Dr Kafiriti, representing Dr Fidelis Myaka, the Director for Research and Development at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives (MAFC), said the Tanzanian government is supportive of all efforts aimed at finding solutions to control plant viruses in the country to improve food security and especially research which provides knowledge and information to policymakers for informed decision making.
He pointed out the examples of the Cassava Brown Streak Disease and Cassava Mosaic Disease which were spreading to new areas in Eastern Africa, ravaging the crop and affecting food security.
The meeting brings together over 200 scientists and leading experts on plant viruses from 40 countries all around the world to discuss ways of controlling plant viruses and mull over a global strategy to combat emerging and reemerging plant virus diseases.
“The event is very special as it is taking place in Africa for the first time and will therefore devote a lot of time to explore the key challenges facing the continent in tackling the key viral diseases to increase agricultural productivity, food availability, and economic development,” said Dr Lava Kumar.
Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) of the CGIAR, also speaking at the forum, noted that Africa was changing for the better and so was its leadership. Its future is thus looking bright. However, he said there were a number of challenges that need to be addressed including viral diseases of staple crops such as cassava, banana, and maize using advances in science.
He said cassava is going to be the crop of the future for Africa, noting that it is not just a food security crop but that it holds immense potential as an income earner as it is a source of industrial raw materials such as glucose and starch.
“Cassava production is picking up – in Nigeria, in Malawi, in Rwanda, and Tanzania. Countries are changing from overreliance on maize. The future of this crop in the continent is bright. However, it faces many challenges including the two viral diseases that are a headache to our farmers and policymakers,” he said. “We need science to solve these problems.”
Sanginga also emphasized the need to invest in building the capacity of young researchers for the future and said the symposium provided a great opportunity for young scientists and students to learn and interact with experienced researchers from all over the world.
Other speakers included Dr Joseph Nduguru from the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI), also one of the conference organizers. He said that researchers of plant diseases still had a lot of challenges ahead of them as diseases were spreading.
“We have more to do for the farmers I met at Mukono, Uganda, who lost their entire cassava crop due to CBSD and CMD…more to do for farmers of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda who are threatened by Maize Lethal Necrosis Disease,” he added.
Plant viruses are among the major factors that affect productivity and cause vast economic losses to staple crops in Africa and other developing regions across the tropics. Furthermore, new viruses, new strains of existing viruses, along with changing contexts due to agricultural intensification and climate change are creating new challenges and demanding even greater effort to find novel, effective ways to tackle virus disease problems.
The meeting is co-organized by IITA, MARI Tanzania, the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda, AVRDC—The World Vegetable Center in Arusha, and CORAF under the auspices of the International Committee on Plant Virus Epidemiology (ICPVE).
The IPVE is a specialist committee on plant virus epidemiology of the International Society of Plant Pathology (ISPP). The IPVE Committee has previously conducted 11 international symposia in different parts of the world.