16 February 2016

Africa: Scientists Discuss Global Whitefly Menace

Over 130 scientists from all over the world yesterday converged in Arusha at the 2nd International Whitefly Symposium (IWS2) to discuss one of the world's most destructive agricultural pests, the whitefly.

According to a statement issued by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (Iita), the meeting chair, Dr Peter Sseruwagi, from the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (Mari) in Dar es Salaam, said it was important to bring the symposium to Africa as the continent is currently grappling with how to feed its ever-increasing population in the face of the twin threats of shrinking agricultural land and climate change.

"To feed itself Africa must intensify its agricultural production to produce more from the same or even less land. Intensification often leads to more pests and diseases.

This meeting therefore brings together renowned whitefly researchers from over 24 countries, the private sector, and students to share and exchange the latest knowledge on the whitefly," said Dr Sseruwagi.

"They will especially focus on cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease, the two viral diseases spread by whiteflies and which have ravaged this key staple crop in sub-Saharan Africa," he added.

Whiteflies and whitefly-transmitted viruses (WTVs) are also one of the biggest constraints to production of horticultural crops, especially vegetables.

In sub-Saharan Africa, whiteflies are a key threat to food security and efforts to reduce poverty in rural areas as they destroy and spread diseases in important crops of smallholder farmers such as vegetables, beans, cassava, cotton, and sweet potato.

The meeting's co-chair, Dr James Legg, from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), added that "Africa is currently struggling with a wave of new viral diseases that are limiting the productivity of the poor smallholder farmers, who are a majority of the population and are the main food producers. These farmers have limited resources to invest in inputs such as pesticides and herbicides.

We need to find sustainable science-based solutions to support them in tackling these challenges." On the other hand, research on whitefly in the continent is inadequate.

Apart from a lack of adequate funding, there are very few vector entomologists to adequately manage the whitefly and associated problems. Therefore scientists from Africa and in particular Tanzania will have an opportunity to learn from their colleagues from other countries such as the US, China, Europe and Australia on new and innovative strategies to control the pest.

Over the coming week, 15 - 19 February, the researchers--including those from Tanzania--will share the latest knowledge on the pest that causes major economic yield losses both by directly feeding on the plants and spreading viral diseases to a range of economically important crops, staples, and commercial flowers across the globe ; and discuss efforts to control it.

The symposium is co-organised by Mari and Iita in collaboration with the University of Dar es Salaam, Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) of Uganda.

It is supported by USAID, the USAID-funded Africa RISING initiative, and Zhejiang University, China. The first International Whitefly Symposium took place in Crete, Greece, in 2013, during which Tanzania won a bid to host the second symposium.

The Symposium is a series of specialised scientific meetings created out of the merger of the International Bemisia Workshop (IBWS) and the European Whitefly Symposium (EWS).

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