Farmers in Uganda, Tanzania and Malawi will soon get the much-needed relief from effects of the notorious African Cassava Whitefly as scientists have developed two control technologies. As key outputs from the Cassava-whitefly control for sustainable food security in Sub-Saharan Africa (ACWP2) Project, researchers are set to release a whitefly resistant cassava variety Mkumba and a protocol for judicious use of the systemic insecticide.
Once the two technologies are released, their adoption by farmers will help manage the escalating whitefly problems in cassava production and increase the availability of clean planting materials in Uganda and the East African region. Whiteflies are the major vectors for the two devastating diseases in cassava i.e., cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak diseases.
The two technologies were the highlight of the project’s annual and end-of-project meeting held in Kampala, Uganda from 6-8th March 2023. The event, marked eight years of success in implementing the project’s two phases. Several presentations made at the meeting highlighted major accomplishments in the three project countries and partners since 2014.
In his remarks during the opening of the meeting, Dr. Sadik Kasim – the Deputy Director General, Agricultural Technology Promotion at NARO applauded for their grit to address the whitefly problem on a whole, for the project in delivering substantially on boosting the capacity of the national research systems in whitefly research but the second phase delivered tangible benefit for smallholder farmers who depend on cassava for food and feed.
“I congratulate you for your commitment and determination to tackle one of the most pressing constraints of cassava in Uganda and the region,” he said.
The African Cassava Whitefly Project began in November 2014, with the aim of providing a rigorous understanding of the causes of superabundant African whitefly populations in East Africa. Phase 11 of the project, which started in November 2018, focused on the implementation of the scientific discoveries of phase 1 in the development of effective management solutions for this crop pest, increase cassava productivity and reduce food insecurity for millions of Sub-Saharan African farmers.
The three countries also reported progress with trials for the genetically modified cassava materials for genetic resistance to whitefly infestation initiated under the project. For example, preliminary trials at Namulonge have demonstrated low infestation by whitefly compared to non-transgenic varieties.
“We are also hopeful that these varieties will one day reach the farmers that most need them. A lot of effort has been made in Uganda towards the establishment of an enabling biosafety regulatory framework for research, development, and application of regulated research products in Uganda,” Dr. Sadik revealed.
According to the Project Coordinator at Natural Resources Institute (NRI)- Prof. John Colvin, the project has demystified myths that have for long impeded progress in whitefly control research. For stance, it was discovered that cassava seed-piece coating technology with systemic insecticides is a valuable whitefly control tool and Latin American genotypes with desired traits such as whitefly resistance can be grown and crossed successfully in East African locations with low whitefly and virus-disease pressure. It was further realized that, “…cassava flowering and sterility barriers can be overcome by pre-breeding crosses to access valuable new traits for African cassava and biotechnology approaches such as RNAi have enormous potential for whitefly management,” Prof. Colvin noted.
In retrospect, the Project has significantly built research human and infrastructural capacity through formal training, both locally and internationally, to ensure that the countries have the requisite human resources to exploit the immense potential of this research. The project was funded by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and coordinated by the NRI and the Alliance for Biodiversity.