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Brown Streak Disease Contributing to Poverty in Africa

A plant virus has blighted the cassava crops in several African nations, causing the harvested plants to be virtually unsellable. Julian Omidi looks at the devastating Brown Streak Disease, which has rendered the plant upon which hundreds of millions of Africans depend bitter and inedible, and has diminished the revenue approximately 90 percent.
More than 500 million Africans are sustained by cassava, a tuber that can be roasted like a potato or ground into flour for bread or porridge. Approximately 250 million tons of cassava are produced every year, with more than half of that total number coming from African farms. The Nigerian Minister of Finance waged a largely successful campaign to encourage Nigerian citizens to substitute locally grown cassava products for wheat products, which are imported. However, a disease has infected approximately 40 percent of cassava crops across the continent, with some farms reporting an 80 percent loss. The disease, a rot that is carried from crop to crop by a white fly, which seems to be making its way from East Africa all the way to Cameroon. Although the disease seems to be concentrated in the east, if it reaches the Congo basin and Nigeria – which is the biggest cassava producer – the results could be devastating. [1]
The disease, known as Cassava Brown Streak Disease, attacks the roots of the cassava tuber and renders the flesh bitter and inedible. The condition isn’t evident until harvest, since the only signs that the crops have been attacked are under ground. Even though the tubers can be processed – the diseased portions removed – the yield results in a 90 percent reduction in revenue for the remaining crops. It is estimated that African farmers could suffer a loss of over $100 million annually for the duration of the blight.
Although efforts have been made in the past to reengineer crops to make them more disease and pest resistant, such policies have largely gone unheeded in African nations, which are rife with corruption, making efficient transport, trade and sale of all the necessary supplies difficult and, in some cases, impossible. However, a group of research scientists will be meeting in Italy order to discuss the possible remedies, and encourage the aid of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
After World War II, a commission was appointed to address the problem of crop blight in potatoes, sweet potatoes and sugar cane. An optimistic estimate for the rate of disease in resistant strains would be approximately 5 percent loss to, with the remaining crop staying healthy.
The ability to raise healthy cassava crops can mean the difference between basic sustenance and crushing poverty for many African nations. Hopefully, agricultural science can be employed successfully, so that that the enormous revenue source upon which so many African citizens rely will not be disturbed further.

By Julian Omidi

[1] Associated Press: Scientists: Cassava Disease Spreads Swiftly, Could Threaten Largest Producer In Nigeria The Washington Post 5/7/2013

Brown Streak Disease

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