Cassava disease threatens West Africa

Researchers from half a dozen states in West Africa have united in a battle against what one expert dabbed a root crop ‘Ebola’- a viral disease that could wreck the region’s staple food and condemn millions to hunger.

The cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), a virus that strikes cassava (manioc), which in some of the region’s countries is consumed by as many as 80% of the population.

The West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) project, a multi-million-dollar scheme funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to shield the region from the advancing peril.

Headquartered at Bingerville, on the edges of the Ivorian economic capital Abidjan, it gathers six countries from West Africa — Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Togo — as well as the Democratic Republic of Congo to give an answer to a common threat.

Much is already known about CBSD — the virus is generally believed to be propagated by an insect called the silver leaf white fly, and also through cuttings taken from infected plants. But there remain gaps in knowledge about West Africa’s specific vulnerabilities to the disease.

The research includes the understanding of the susceptibility of local strains of cassava to the virus, and identification of points in the cassava trade which can help to localise outbreak of CBSD swell into an epidemic.

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