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.
The Gates Foundation will contribute $50 million (€40.9 million) in financing, as well as an additional $12.5 million (€10.2 million) in technical assistance, to investment projects in the health sector in Africa through the EU’s framework to improve sustainable investments in Africa. This pooling of resources is designed to encourage additional private investment towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and will allow successful projects to be scaled up more rapidly. The European Commission welcomes this strong support to its efforts towards sustainable development in Africa, and will match this contribution with another €50 million.
“The EU accounts for a third of foreign direct investment into Africa – this is now helping create jobs and growth on both of our continents” – European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. “But we must do more to improve the business environment and provide a platform for African innovators to grow. This requires the full involvement of the private and philanthropic sectors, and I am grateful to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for their much needed engagement. This is an investment in our shared future. Europe’s partnership with Africa is one in which we support each other, help each other to prosper and make the world a safer, more stable and more sustainable place to live.”
“Improving health outcomes allows a society to become more prosperous and productive. There has been a lot of progress in this area in sub-Saharan Africa since 2000, but we need to do more to incentivize research and innovation that benefit the poor. It is fantastic that the European Commission, in partnership with African countries, is leading the way in reducing deep-seated inequities in global health. This commitment will create opportunities that will help people lift themselves and their communities out of poverty” – Bill Gates said.
This new partnership on health follows a first joint initiative with the EU, announced on 12 December 2017 at the One Planet Summit in Paris, to support the development of tools and techniques to benefit smallholder farmers in developing countries. Through that initiative, the Commission will provide €270 million, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation $300 million (€244.7 million), to finance agricultural research to help the world’s poorest farmers better adapt to increasingly challenging growing conditions brought about by climate change. France, Germany, Italy, Spain and other EU Member States will also take part in this programme.