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THISDAY, Vol. 15, No. 5553, Page 39

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

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Zanzibar' Shows Way in Battle against Cassava Disease

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he article by Donald G. McNeil, Jr. published in the New York Times last month on a disease wreaking havoc on cas· sava - an important staple in sub·Saharan Africa· was timely, rughUghting the unique challenges posed by this not-sonew disease in the continent. Known as the Cassava Brown Streak disease , it threatens the food security and livelihoods of over 200 million people. It emerged at a time when the region was just recovering from battling another deadly disease , the Cassava Mosaic Disease. 11,ese two diseases affiict li)e crop that provides more than 50 percent of the dietary calories of the majority of the population in sub-Saharan Africa, and pose the greatest tlu-eallO food security in the region. Combined, they cost Africa more than US$1 billion in damages every year. Unfortunately, small-scale farmers and poor consumers bear the brunt of these losses. AIthough Brown Streak disease had been known in East Africa for many years, it had always been confined to lowland coastal areas. The new outbreak has spread rapidly to Ule relatively rugh altitude regions (over 3000 feet above sea level) of Uganda , Kenya, and TanzMlia around the shores of Lake Victoria. Worse still , cassava in this region appears to be susceptible. Brown streak causes greater economic damages than the mosaic disease as it destroys the roots - the more val uable part of the crop. Further, its symptoms are not always evident and reveal themselves oruy at harvest. For many years, little anention has been paid to this 'silent time bomb', distracted perhaps by the more pressing concerns of the mosaic disease. However, a small but s ignificant research effon was underway on the island of Zanzibar. Almost three-quarters of the population of Zanzibar rely on agriculture for food and income, wilh cassava being Ole second most important ~taple after rice. With over 90 percent or" the island's subsistence farmers growing cassava. concerned authori-

ties swung into action. Zanzibar scientists and the Nigeria-based Intemationallnstitute of Tropical Agriculture (UTA), with suppon from the Rockefeller Foundmion and other panners. bred new cassava varieties 10 combat the brown streak menace. In 2007, they released four tolerant varieties fanners across the counuy. . Aside from bei ng tolerant to the disease, the new varieties yield twice as much as the local varieties while satisfying other 'local preferences such as taste and cooking texture. Although me varieties are not totally immune to the disease, their roots remain intact. Farmers can confidently plant them and

expect a hearty and pristine harvest. The new varieties have been welcomed by .the farmers; and three years later, the island's cassava production is stronger than ever, The more immediate challenge is to get enough planting materials to meet the demand. Currently, only IO,OOO cassava farmers out of the close to a million on the is land alone are growing the improved varieties. The country's government , llTA, and several development partners and donors such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa have been engaged in' intensive effortS to rapidly multiply these varieties to ensure they are available to as many farmers in the shortest possible time. Efforts are also underway to replicate the Zanzibar success in the neighbouring countries and in the mid-altitude zones of Tanzania. Working with national partners, more than 15 varieties have been identified in Uganda and Tanzania that show acceptable tolerance levels eyen under Ule harshest disease pressure con-

ditions. They are expected to be released in a year or two after further testing. . Most importantly, farmers will need to evaluate these new varieties under actual field conditions for resistance to bOlh diseases , as well as for utilization characteristics. The best of these varieties will be used in further disease-resistance breeding programmes in other countries such as Burundi , Rwanda, Kenya, and DR Congo. To accelerate the crop improvement process, the scientists are using some true and tested old but efficient tools, such as molecular marker-assisted breeding. Traditional breeding takes 8-12 years (0 come up with improVed varieties, a lUXUry of time that affected farmers cannot afford. Though much remains to be done , Zanzibar's success has been inspiring. If replicated, this could provide the key to a brighter future for all cassava producers in Africa and, by extension, bring greater economic prosperity to the region.

FAO Tasks Tea Producers on Higher Income .

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he Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). has urged tea-producing countries to increase income from the crop by marketing tile drink more heavily ar home and publicising tile healtil benefi~ of tile beverage abroad. The UN agency warned against increasing the size of tea plantations which would damage prices in the long run . In a report published online last week, FAO also said that the expon market in green tea will grow more quiC;k1y over the next ten years than that of black tea, where the markets in major importing coun!ries are unlikely to expand further as they are already nearly saturated , "Scope for expansion in consumption in traditional import markets like the United Kingdom and Russia is qu ite limited but in the countries where tea is produced the per capim consumption is much lower and so there is a lot more market potential ," said Kaison Chang, Secre~ of FAO's interGovernmental Group on Tea, the only international tea authority,

. Consumers in tea-producing countries drink: just a tenm of the amount of tea th.an those in mauu-e import markets, representing a major opportitnity for tea-growers if the right marketing strateg ies are employed, said the FAO repon. TIle FAO Composite Price for tea, the indicative world price for black tea, increased by 13 percent in 2009, pushjng prices to record levels 'last year due to drought in some of the major tea-prod ucing regions of Asia and Africa, Prices have now stabilised as weather panems return to nonnal. The effect of this price increase on the consumer in deyel- , oped countries was.just five percent in 2009 because of intense competition in the beverages market. In developing countries retail tea prices rose 12 percent during tile same period. World black tea exports are projected to grow by 1.8 per cent between now and 20 19. Green tea exports are expected to grow as much as 55 per cent per year, Cruna is the world 's largest tea exporter,

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f9llowed by Kenya, Sri Lankiand India . Food for tea ''Tea can be an important contributing· fac tor to a nation"s f<XXI security," said Chang. " In Kenya for example. receipts fro m tea exports covers the counuy"s entire food import bill." Earnings from tea exports account for about 35 percent of total agricultural export receipts in Kenya and: constituted 50 percen,t of agriCUl tural export revenue in the next largest tea producer, Sri Lanka, covering around 60 percent of food imports. The increase in tile FAO Tea Composite Price in 2009 translated to a seven percent increase in export earnings at the global level , significantly affecting rural incomes and household food security in tea producing countries, FAG said, Black tea accounted for 65 Percent Qf tOlal tea production over the past five years, 67 percent of consumption and 80 percent of trade. The acceptance of the health benefits of green tea over the past few years in developed countries has helped exports.

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THISDAY, Vol.16 No.5553