Crop Success Celebrated in Zambia After Farmers Plant Virus-free Cassava Cuttings

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17 April 2024, Zambia: Smallholder cassava farmers in Zambia are celebrating success after growing their crops with clean cassava cuttings free from the potentially devastating Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) that threatens livelihoods and food security.

Seventy percent of the 500 farmers in the Nsama District of Northern Province – that in February 2023 received disease-free cassava cuttings to plant for healthy crops – have reported a “very good crop stand” and the crop is “performing well.”

CABI is working with various departments under the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), including the Seed Control and Certification Institute (SCCI), Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) and the Department of Agriculture (DoA), to promote the cultivation of healthier cassava crops in Zambia, which are at risk of total loss from invasive CBSD.

Requirements met for official certification

The cassava crop from 16 CABI-trained cassava seed growers has been inspected and the crop from 14 of these growers has met the requirements for official certification by the SCCI. This means the crop is currently fit to sell as virus-free seed (cuttings) and can be used to propagate cleaner cassava fields in the region.

Through the comprehensive training spearheaded by CABI and conducted by the seed controller, SCCI, Nsama lead farmers have successfully transitioned into registered seed growers thereby exemplifying CABI’s pioneering ethos and commitment to agricultural innovation.

The cuttings are already being bought from the CABI-trained seed growers by Itabwa Investments who are also providing the smallholder farmers with tractors and anti-termite products, as well as other inputs, to help improve their cassava production.

Threats to country’s cassava sub-sector

A CABI-published evidence note on CBSD, outlined that the disease, relatively new to Zambia, threatens the development of the country’s cassava sub-sector.

The note reports increased demand for cassava roots from Zambia Breweries, Zhongkai international, Itabwa Investments and Sunbird Bioenergy Zambia Ltd who collectively need over 50,000 tonnes of annual cassava feedstock for brewing, mining, confectionary and biofuel production.

The recent initiative follows a campaign in August 2022 to curb the spread of the disease that in Zambia has seen losses of around 55% of total cassava production. This is equivalent to monetary losses of over US $500,000.

Reaping a harvest of clean cassava cuttings free from CBSD

A stakeholder meeting held during the campaign agreed on a response plan to curb the spread of the disease. This included better diagnostics, phytosanitation at the farm and community level and the development of a seed system to ensure farmers’ access to improved and disease-free planting materials.

The beneficiaries of the cassava cuttings were trained on the correct cultivation and management of the cassava crop and are now reaping a harvest of clean cassava cuttings free from CBSD.

Dr Chapwa Kasoma, Post Doctoral Fellow, Invasive Species Management, based at CABI’s centre in Lusaka, said, “Evidence from the smallholder farmers in the Nsama District of Northern Province is proof that the planting of clean cassava cuttings is helping to mitigate the impacts of not only the devastating Cassava Brown Streak disease but other viral diseases such as Cassava Mosaic Disease.”

“By working closely with our public and private sector partners including smallholder farmers and their communities, together we have demonstrated that crop pests and diseases can be tackled, and good agricultural practices adopted. In the case of the cassava subsector, this further demonstrates that a functional seed system can be instigated and sustained through collaborative efforts.”

Itabwa Investments now looks forward to engaging 2,000 smallholder farmers by the end of their three-year project and will work with CABI-trained farmers to maintain continuity of the seed supply to other farmers in the region.

Improved livelihoods for smallholder cassava farmers

Mr Musonda Chansa, CFO of ITABWA Investments, said, “We are elated to partner with CABI to combat cassava brown streak disease in Nsama district as well as commercialise cassava farming to improve the livelihoods of cassava smallholder farmers in the district.

“We hope to buy more cuttings over the next three years to distribute to at least 2,000 farmers for whom we will also provide a market and look forward to continued collaboration with CABI in the cassava value chain.”

When the clean cassava cuttings were first distributed, Mr Mapopa Tembo, the Senior Agricultural Officer of Nsama District expressed appreciation to the collaborating partners for the positive gesture.

Mr Mapopa Tembo, Senior Agriculture Officer (SAO) of Nsama District, said, “As the Department of Agriculture in Nsama, we are so delighted for the gesture by CABI as the district is hit heavily with the cassava brown streak disease, but as it is now our farmers can find clean cassava cuttings from within the district.

“All our farmers are aware of the disease and the practice of sharing the cuttings which are diseased is slowly coming to an end. The crop is fast growing and yielding good results.

Functional cassava seed system

CABI’s PlantwisePlus programme is supporting Zambian farmers towards the attainment of the country’s vision to manage the CBSD menace, which has seen affected regions report substantial losses. This has been due to severe hard rots in harvested roots and a reduction in root quality caused by pitting and constrictions.

Now in its roll out phase, PlantwisePlus is leveraging its success in instigating a functional cassava seed system in Zambia by integrating gender through increased participation of women and youth in cassava seed production. The aim is to build community resilience against invasive pests such as the cassava brown streak disease through a formal and gender-responsive seed system.

Some of the smallholder farmers have proceeded to register new cooperatives, to better position themselves for continued seed production activities in the region.

Gabriel Chisenga, Lead Farmer, said, “These cuttings have improved our Cassava farming prospects. We hope to be regional suppliers of clean Cassava seed in northern province because of the certification we are getting as seed growers with the help from CABI.”

Also Read: ADAMA Launches New Cereal Fungicide Maganic®

(For Latest Agriculture News & Updates, follow Krishak Jagat on Google News)

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