Diseases of Cassava Wreak Havoc in Africa

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21 October, 2013

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Agriculture Report.

Cassava is an important crop in some countries. More than 160 million people across Africa depend on the plant for food or to earn money. The continent produces 60 percent of the world's cassava crop. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported last May that cassava production has increased by 60 percent worldwide since 2000.

Agricultural experts had been expecting it to grow even more during the next ten years as policy makers begin to understand the crop better, but those expectations have been crashed. The amount of cassava being grown in east and central Africa is falling because of diseases that reduce production.

Diseases of Cassava Wreak Havoc in Africa
A woman peels cassava to make cassava flour in a market in Lagos, Nigeria, May 2013.

Two such diseases of the cassava brown streak virus and cassava mosaic virus, they are wrecking Africa's agricultural lands. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization says, brown streak disease does more damage since it affects the root of the crop.

Luca Alinovi is the acting director of the FAO in eastern and central Africa. He says the agency has taken steps to improve the situation, but it is not getting better.

"Doing right or wrong on cassava has a huge impact on the food security of the people in this region, has such a relevance in our daily lives that we tend to forget it because it appeared in a kind of technical discussion. And I want to bring to your attention that, although it is a technical issue it requires knowledge and requires research."

Dominique Davoux heads the European Union Rural Development and Agricultural program in Kenya. He says the cassava diseases have changed over the years, he says there is need to invest in research to fight the diseases.

"We supported the cassava initially, there has been [a] stop in the support, the research slugged [lagged] behind, and the disease reinvented itself [and] propagated again. We have to re-address the issue."

The FAO says at least $100 million is needed. Some of the money would go to support clean farm production, collect information and study the diseases. The rest will go to market and micro-finance development across the cassava production chain.

Experts say failure to do so means the cassava disease will likely invade Nigeria, the biggest producer of cassava in Africa.

And that's the Agriculture Report from VOA Learning English. You can download transcripts and MP3s of all of our programs at our website, 51voa.com. You can also find captioned videos at the VOA Learning English channel on YouTube. I'm Milagros Ardin.