Researchers are working to develop a disease-resistant cassava that takes less than 10 years to breed.

Dr Teresia Munga said they are breeding varieties that are resistant to cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease. She is a cassava breeder at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation.

The conventional cassava takes 10 years to breed, but scientists hope the new variety will take half the time.

Dr Simon Gichuki, a senior research officer at Kalro-Biotechnology Research Institute, said despite cassava being a food security crop, farmers often incur huge losses due to the two diseases.

“This is an important source of food security because when other crops fail due to poor rains, cassava is drought-resistant and farmers are still able to get some yields,” he said.

“However, the viral diseases are the biggest challenge facing cassava farmers in Kenya and scientists have not been able to develop any variety that is resistant to these diseases.” Farmers incur 80 to 100 per cent losses.

 Kenya has 200,000 hectares (494,210 acres) under cassava. About 60 per cent of the crop is in Western, Coast – including Kwale, Lamu, Kilifi and Tana River – has 30 per cent, while the rest is in Central.

Gichuki said the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa plus project, which started in 2006, initially only focussed on the cassava mosaic disease. But by 2009-11, researchers noticed that the cassava brown streak was becoming a bigger problem to farmers.

CREDIT: AGATHA NGOTHO @agathangotho

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