ZAMBIA – The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) has teamed up with the Zambian government to combat the deadly Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), which can cause the crop to completely fail and be destroyed.

CABI through its PlantwisePlus program, aims to assist Zambian farmers in realizing their vision for controlling the CBSD threat.

PlantwisePlus is a global program that CABI launched last year to assist low- and lower-middle income countries in anticipating, preparing for, and preventing plant health threats in a changing climate.

By reducing crop losses, PlantwisePlus gives farmers the tools they need to produce more food of higher quality, which will increase their income, food security, and food safety.

For millions of people, cassava provides a primary source of nourishment. Estimated losses due to CBSD in Zambia are around 55% of total cassava production, equivalent to monetary losses of over U.S $500,000, according to CABI.

In order to develop a strategy to aid in the fight against CBSD in Zambia, representatives from CABI’s centers in Lusaka and Nairobi, Kenya, met with representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) of Zambia and His Royal Highness Senior Chief Kaputa.

The Department of Agriculture (DOA), the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), and the Dziwa Science and Technology Trust are all participating in a campaign to increase awareness of and take action against CBSD (DSaT).

Dr. Noah Phiri, CABI’s Regional Representative in Southern Africa; Dr. Chapwa Kasoma, Postdoctoral Fellow Invasive Species Management Zambia; and Dr. Ivan Rwomushana, Senior Scientist, Invasive Species Management at CABI, attended the stakeholder meeting following a CABI-published evidence note highlighting the impact of CBSD on cassava — Zambia’s second most important crop after maize.

According to the evidence note, CBSD which is a relatively new viral disease, threatens Zambia’s cassava subsector in the face of increasing demand for the tubers from prominent companies.

The stakeholder meeting followed a training workshop aimed at Zambia’s media — of which more than 30 attended — who can play a vital role in the dissemination of information to help raise awareness amongst smallholder farmers of the issue that currently has no cure.

During the stakeholders meeting, the minister of agriculture, Mr. Reuben Mtolo Phiri, said cassava ranks high among the staple foods and is a strategic crop for food security and livelihoods in Zambia.

He expressed the government’s commitment to curbing the spread of CBSD in the country together with other strategic partners at the meeting, as well as learning lessons from other countries that have successfully handled the disease.

Senior Chief Kaputa revealed that 16 camps in the Kaputa area are affected and expressed concern over the rapid spread of the disease in the province.

CABI’s intervention

Additionally, the Royal Highness requested that the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit assist the citizens of his chiefdom (DMMU).

“We are concerned with the arrival of CBSD. It poses a major challenge causing yield losses of up to 100% in susceptible varieties and has become the leading biotic constraint to cassava production in Southern Africa.

“Our work in partnership with ZARI and the Department of Agriculture and other stakeholders is vital if we are to reduce the impact of this devastating disease,” Dr. Noah Phiri said.

Dr. Ivan Rwomushana reiterated that Zambia, as a member country of CABI, can leverage wide-ranging expertise and best practices in the sustainable management of the disease. He also stated that the PlantwisePlus program was committed to assisting the farmers on this path.

Meanwhile , Dr. Kasoma gave an update on what CABI has done thus far, including a survey of CBSD and dissemination activities.

According to the CABI evidence note which she gave as proof, farmers in the affected areas report significant losses in cassava production as a result of severe hard rots in harvested roots, and a decline in root quality brought on by pitting and constrictions..

A 2021 survey conducted by CABI to assess the prevalence and impact of CBSD in Zambia’s traditional cassava growing regions revealed widespread root damage symptoms from 51% of respondent farmers.

Dr. Kasoma also presented the concept note, which was validated by workshop participants. The concept note outlines what needs to be done to provide availability of, and access of, farmers to clean cassava planting materials.

The campaign to raise awareness moving forward will include farmer gatherings, plant health rallies, SMS and radio shows.

The meeting also agreed on a response strategy to stop the disease’s spread. This strategy includes improved diagnoses, phytosanitation on farms and in communities, and the creation of a seed system to guarantee that farmers have access to improved and disease-free planting materials.

CBSD is characterized by severe chlorosis and necrosis on infected leaves, giving them a yellowish, mottled appearance. The name brown streak was given to the disease from the brown lesions which sometimes appear on young green stems.

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