Enhancing Food Security Through Improved Disease-resistant Cassava

Farmers and Food Safety Organisations Demand 10-year Ban on GMO Cassava in Kenya

Casssava tubers at a market stall

https://www.linkedin.com/in/alis-okonji-86823465/Cassava is a highly resilient, nutritious food security crop, feed and industrial crop that can greatly contribute to improving the food security and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa.

Due to its low input- high output nature, efficiency in water use, tolerance to drought, pests and diseases, cassava is a popular crop in many rural smallholder households. Unfortunately, farmers have experienced massive losses of up to 98% due to the effects of climate change and diseases like Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD)

CBSD causes roots to rot that renders the cassava tuber inedible, resulting in severe loss of economic value, hunger, and food insecurity. In fact, CBSD is considered to be one of the biggest threats to food security in coastal East Africa and around the eastern lakes.

The total losses in susceptible cassava crops in ten Eastern and Central African countries are valued at 70 million USD every year. Affected farmers have reported tremendous losses in livelihoods, food, and nutrition.

In the Kenyan eastern region, over 70 percent of children depend on cassava for energy; cassava leaves are a nutritious source of animal feed, while in Nigeria cassava is used as the staple ingredient in the famous garri food.

Farmers in the region already suffer consequences of climate change, droughts, floods, invasion by pests, and diseases like CBSD amidst global pandemics like COVID-19.

The good news is, researchers and scientists from Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) Plus project, a collaborative program between Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) Uganda, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, have submitted CBSD Resistant Cassava Variety 4046 to the National Biosafety Authority of Kenya that promises a bright future for cassava farming.

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“We have genetically engineered a highly resistant CBSD line, Cassava line 4046 that is able to be inherited if crossed,” Douglas Miano the principal investigator at VIRCA Plus told the public during a webinar.

The research on the CBSD Resistant variety has been ongoing since 2008 and has undergone laboratory and confined trials in Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria with exemplary results seeing a reduction in losses from 98% to only 2%.

Extensive studies in the greenhouse and field trials on Cassava 4046, conclusively proved the resistance of cassava against CBSD.

The CBSD resistant cassava has also demonstrated sustained resistance across multiple generations and in different locations including Kenya and Uganda.

The partners, having submitted this variety to the National Biosafety Authority of Kenya, will now await assessment for food, feed and environmental safety in compliance with global standards and regulations.

So far, the CBSD Resistant Cassava is safe based on International Food, Feed, and Environmental Safety guidelines by FAO and WHO Consortium. The cassava plant characteristics have remained the same, the nutrition composition has not been altered and no negative effects on the environment have been reported.

Farmers and consumers are set to benefit from this CBSD-resistant cassava as it promises increased cassava root quality and marketable yield.

Breeders will also be able to have access to the source of CBSD resistance that will ensure the availability of good quality planting materials to secure the harvest.

With this, cassava production is set to rise and increase incomes and livelihoods for smallholder farmers across the region.

KALRO has submitted an application to the NBA for cultivation and placing on the market of CBSD resistant cassava.

Upon approval, the CBSD resistant cassava line will be used in cassava breeding programs to develop new improved farmer preferred varieties.

The cost of this resistant cassava will be the same as any other existing variety and available to all farmers.

ASARECA joins our partners in celebrating this biotechnology milestone that will revive the production of cassava in the region. Once again modern biotechnology has proven to be a solution against diseases and threats in the agricultural sector.

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Cassava remains a rich staple indigenous crop, whose roots are rich in carbohydrates making them an important source of dietary energy. 

Traditional recipes include being consumed fresh after cooking, processed into food products, or fed to livestock. Cassava root starch is also used in a wide array of industries, from food manufacturing and pharmaceuticals to production of plywood, paper, and bio-ethanol. In some countries, cassava is also grown for its leaves, which contain up to 25 percent protein.

First Published on Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.


Alis Okonji, is the Communications Assistant at Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa.