In a bid to stop the spread of a destructive viral cassava disease, farmers have been urged to be cautious when selecting cassava stems to grow the food crop. This follows the rapid spread of the cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) to at least 25 districts in the country.
Cassava brown streak disease is a devastating viral plant infection that causes up to 100 per cent loss of cassava root yield, rendering the produce useless, according to Dr Fina Opio, the programme manager, Staple Crops at the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (Asareca), an organisation that promotes and strengthens agricultural research in Africa.
On a cassava plant, the disease can be identified by; yellow patches with a mix of green on the leaves, and a yellow vein banding which may enlarge. On the stems, the disease appears as dark brown streaks and spots, while the root tuber rots with cracks.
Speaking to Daily Monitor on January 25, Ms Opio urged farmers to avoid sharing cassava stems in order to stop the spread of the disease which is said to be worse than the cassava mosaic disease. “It is a terrible disease. Farmers should not share the stems of affected plants, they should uproot and destroy them,” she said, adding that farmers should now focus on planting resistant varieties. “Plant only tolerant varieties,” Ms Opio advised. Some of the resistant varieties in Uganda include; MH97-2961 and 00061 (Akena).
The disease that originated from the Eastern coastal areas has severely hit districts including; Busia, Mukono, Bugiri, Soroti, Luweero, Pallisa, Wakiso, and Kaberamaido. The disease is spread through planting of cassava cuttings from infected cassava plants and sharing and distribution of infected planting materials. It is also spread by insects called white flies and through the use of infested farm implements such as knives used for cutting cassava stems.
Cassava is said to be one of the most consumed food crops and the new disease is likely to lead to a fall in cassava production. Ms Opio said if a census is carried out today, there are high chances that it would be found that cassava production has reduced due to the new disease. Asareca is set to launch a nationwide awareness campaign about the disease in attempt to overcome its aggressiveness and shore up Uganda’s food security.