Arusha — FARMERS in Tanzania should shift from planting maize to growing cassava, since the latter will soon overtake the former's demand on the continent.
Scientists meeting here have pointed out that cassava is on the verge of replacing maize as the main staple for the nearly one billion residents of the African continent and that the 'roots' value is clocking to over two billion US dollars per year, it was observed here yesterday.
"Cassava is currently the most drought resistant crop which can also thrive in lownutrient soil and scientists have come up with new varieties that are resilient to diseases," explained Dr Nteranya Sangina, the Director General for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.
His organisation, the IITA is hosting the 12th International Plant Virus Epidemiology Symposium, which is taking place here. The event has gathered scientists from more than 40 countries worldwide.
With the threats of global warming and the related climate change, the scientists attending the symposium are on view that maize which has always been the main food crop for Africa is losing its hold on the continent's staple food, as it increasingly becomes susceptible to drought and diseases.
"In Nigeria, cassava has already taken over from maize. We make 'ugali' from cassava and extract ethanol from its roots and we are now using cassava to make bread which means the crop is also replacing wheat," said Dr Sangina.
During the meeting, participants took tea with bread made from cassava flour and many could not distinguish the taste from that of wheatflour bread and with over 170 million people eating bread daily, cassava is just on the verge of becoming popular food in Africa.
Dr Elly Kafiriti from the Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) said his Mtwara-based Southern Zone Research and Development Centre is currently working to develop disease resistant cassava, as well as developing more resilient crop variety to intercept the effects of changing climate and emerging diseases.
Morogoro is being described to have highest potential for cassava growing in Tanzania and Kitui area can do the same for Kenya and together, they can make East Africa self reliant on food and totally abolish the importation of food during drought spells.
Running under the theme, Evolution, Ecology and Control of Plant Viruses, the symposium is said to be also focusing on emergence, epidemiology and control of native and new virus diseases. "This is to reflect on prevailing situation of virus diseases in Africa and around the world that are not only ravaging the crop production, but also affecting the international exchange of germ plasm and commerce," explained Dr Sangina.
The Arusha-held, five-day symposium will also provide a forum for exchange of latest knowledge and technologies to control virus diseases and pave way for an African and global strategy to combat emerging and re-emerging plant virus diseases.