TANZANIA has found a remedy for cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) but it cannot use it since it was genetically engineered and the country has no policy on the technology, it has been revealed.
The treatment for the disease was discovered by local researchers at the Mikocheni Agriculture Research Institute (MARI) in Dar es Salaam, according to the Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Co-operatives, Eng Christopher Chiza.
"Scientists at MARI are, however, conducting alternative methods to control the disease since genetically engineering is not yet permitted for use in Tanzania," the minister told the 'Daily News'.
Eng Chiza said if the country had adopted a national policy on genetic engineering it would have made use of the technology to tame CBSD.
Scientists say the disease is threatening the future of cassava in Africa. "There are some countries in Africa which are using the technology to fight the disease but as we wait for more studies I call upon local farmers to follow directions given by agriculture officers on farming of the crop," he said.
At a meeting held last week in Nairobi, Kenya, the European Union (EU) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the future of cassava may be under threat if efforts to renew the fight against diseases affecting the plant are not renewed.
However, the Tanzanian Minister allayed fears over the future of the crop, stating that "CBSD is just like other diseases which have been attacking cassava".
Cassava is one of Africa's most promising and climate-resilient crops and thus a need for renewed investments of USD 100 million (about 160bn/-) by governments and partners, it was proposed by over 70 regional cassava professionals at the meeting.
Over the past four years the Regional Cassava Initiative, funded by the EU and coordinated by FAO, has restored cassava yields and improved the food security situation of over 500,000 people in East and Central Africa.
During the Regional Cassava Initiative's closing workshop "Upholding cassava's potential in Africa", over 70 experts from across Africa gathered to take stock of achievements made by the project and elaborate on the way forward in addressing the threat.
It was noted during the meeting that while Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) is being contained, CBSD is rapidly spreading, posing a major threat to the food security of 135 million people in the region.
The initiative was rolled out to support farmers and value chain actors in their efforts to mitigate, manage and prevent the effects.
Seven countries namely Tanzania, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Rwanda and Uganda were involved in the four-year project, which is coming to an end next month 2013.
Under the project, which was coordinated by FAO Sub-regional Emergency Office for Eastern and Central Africa, disease-tolerant or resistant cassava varieties were grown and clean planting materials made available to farmers.
At least half of all plants in Africa are affected by cassava diseases. Scientists express fear that if CBSD is not contained it is likely to reach Nigeria, the biggest cassava nation in Africa, and its impact on food security will be immense.