Dar es Salaam — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has partnered with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives to launch three new initiatives that will tackle deadly cassava diseases in eastern and southern Africa.
The three new projects are aimed at supporting efforts to develop cassava varieties with resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD).
They also target to establish more sustainable seed systems to enable smallholder farmers' better access to such varieties.
The projects, with grants amounting to $10.62m were officially announced during a Cassava Value Chain event organized in Dar es Salaam recently.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Eng Christopher Chiza told East African Business Week during the launch in Dar es Salaam the CMD and CBSD are spreading fast in East and Central Africa.
Eng Chiza noted the projects came at an appropriate time when farmers badly needed access to planting materials for new improved varieties.
"These are extremely important projects for Tanzania and the region because cassava is a very important crop not only for food security.
"It also has great potential as a cash crop through processing. These two diseases, especially CBSD, are a major problem to our farmers and need to be urgently addressed," he said.
A Senior Program Officer at the Gates Foundation, Mr Lawrence Kent said, Cassava is one of our priority crops, as it is mostly grown by resource-poor small-holder farmers and especially women.
Therefore he added, finding a sustainable solution to its production challenges provides us all an opportunity to make a difference in their lives and make progress in efforts to overcome hunger and poverty.
The Cassava Varieties and Clean Seed to Combat CBSD and CMD (5CP) project will facilitate sharing of five of the best varieties from Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda for regional testing across the countries to speed up the development of varieties with dual resistance to the two diseases.
The project, led by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), will further pilot a clean seed system in Tanzania to produce virus-tested cassava planting material for multiplication by either local communities or seed entrepreneurs for sale to farmers.
"The most effective and realistic approach to reducing losses to CMD and CBSD is the development and deployment of varieties that have dual resistance to the two diseases, the IITA cassava breeder and team leader of the 5CP project, Mr Edward Kanju said.
"Researchers in the five countries have made good progress towards this end and many varieties have been released or are in the pipeline. By facilitating them to share their best varieties, we will ensure the farmers are getting the best varieties from the region," Kanju said.