It requires 'quick multiplication of cassava clean seeds' as part of efforts to scale up new disease-resistant cassava varieties on about 200,000 hectares that are used for cassava growing in Rwanda, researchers have said.
Athanase Nduwumuremyi, the Coordinator of Roots and Tubers Programme and Cassava breeder at Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resource Development Board (RAB) said that the efforts by seed multipliers are needed considering that many farmers are still harvesting lower yields using traditional seeds.
"The average of cassava production is 15 tonnes per hectare due to using traditional seeds that have diseases yet model farmers using the cassava clean seed are harvesting over 35 tonnes per hectare," he explained.
Figures show that some farmers are still even harvesting below the potential yield.
Rwanda currently produces around three million tonnes of cassava as average production and scaling up new varieties could increase to about eight million tonnes per year with improved varieties and appropriate use of fertilizers.
Cassava is the second most grown crop after banana in terms of cultivated area and the fourth most consumed staple crop in Rwanda.
However, National production dropped from 3.3 million tonnes to 656,924 tonnes in 2013 and 900, 000 tonnes in 2014 due to the spread of Cassava Brown Streak Disease known as ' Kabore' and it is still affecting some few farmers who are yet to embrace the use of new varieties.
The crop is also affected by the other diseases called "Cassava Mosaic disease (CMD) or Ububembe".
Over 18 per cent of the country's households are food insecure according to the ministry of agriculture.
Increasing production and availability of food is expected to eliminate the stunting rate that is currently at 33 per cent and achieve zero hunger by 2025 in the country.
In order to ensure sustainable food security for over 700,000 families that grow cassava crops, Nduwumuremyi said increasing cassava clean seeds multipliers will be helpful.
"We have taken four years doing research on cassava varieties that can resist diseases. We 17 imported varieties from outside research centres and eight of them are performing well. Some of them have been deployed among farmers while others will be deployed soon. We will also work with professional cassava clean seed multipliers to ensure the seeds are scaled up across the country," he said.
He said they started with cassava clean seed multipliers and the number has increased to seven multipliers so far.
"As we get more cassava clean seeds, we will increase multipliers to ensure the seeds reach out to many farmers. We ask every group of multipliers to put in efforts so that farmers get clean seeds. If all farmers adopt the clean seeds, the diseases will no longer affect production. The new varieties will increase productivity," he said.
Nduwumuremyi said that in the next two years, quality cassava cuttings will be 'available from seed multipliers to all farmers'.
"Rwandan researchers have also gained capacity to locally produce cassava seeds. Cassava can be grown in all other parts of the country except the northern region that is so cold," he said.
Six new improved varieties, he said, were bred in partnership with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) under the funding from International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
He said the clean seeds are set to resist streak disease and cassava mosaic disease as well as drought. The seeds were given local names, Buryohe, Gikungu, Tegereza, Tebuka, Biseruka, and Nsizebashonje," he said.
Rwanda benefitted from The $2.5 million 4-year project, closing this year, that aims at fighting two deadly cassava diseases, that seriously affect cassava productivity, namely Cassava Brown Streak disease (CBSD) or Kabole and Cassava Mosaic disease (CMD) or Ububembe, through the deployment of new resistant germplasm and clean seeds in in Rwanda and Burundi.
According to Silver Tumwegamire, cassava breeder and seed system expert at IITA Rwanda, there is a need for a continuous backing from different stakeholders to produce and scale up clean seeds that are resistant to the viral diseases.
"The follow up is going to be largely on strengthening the national breeding program for cassava, so that they are able to do their job without external support. We would also like to operationalize the seed value chain for cassava in Rwanda," he said.
He added that there is also a need to operationalize the seed quality control, because up to now, seed multipliers are not working well with seeds regulators.
"It requires more capacity building for the seed multipliers, so that they are really able to have very good knowledge and understanding how to produce good seeds needed by farmers.
Jacques Niyongira, a farmer & cassava seed multiplier from Ntongwe Sector in Ruhango District, said while he can sell cassava clean seeds to farmers, he also provides some seeds for free.
"When I multiply seeds two times, I can produce seeds which all farmers in the cell can plant. I also grow cassava on a land where I can harvest between 150 and 200 tonnes per year .There is a need for more efforts to ensure all farmers get clean seeds. With training to seed multipliers, it ensures seeds are available whenever farmers demand," he said.