The meeting was to reinforce the understanding of key stakeholders on the health and economic importance of cassava, the viral diseases affecting the crop, and measures to adopt to eliminate and control them.
Representatives from CSIR-CRI, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSD) of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), Alliance for a revolution in Africa (AGRA), the University of Cape Coast (UCC) and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) attended the meeting.
Dr. Moses Mochiah, Director of CSIR-CRI, during a welcome address, said cassava is a crucial crop because it provided food for nearly 800 million people worldwide, including 500 million Africans and a few 25 million Ghanaians.
He said the crop’s resilience makes it a strategic one for food security and poverty reduction since its derived products like gari, tapioca, fermented dough, flour, starch, and chips, amongst others, helped to spice up sub-regional trade.
Despite its importance, Africa, the world’s largest cassava producer, had rock bottom yields compared to other continents as cultivation of the crop was impeded by several constraints, including viral diseases.
Dr. Mochiach said African Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Steak Disease (CBSD) constituted the foremost eminent restrictions to cassava production thanks to their geographical distribution, leading to an annual economic loss which is estimated at two to 3 billion dollars in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.
He said the recent spread of CBSD from East Africa into the Central African Republic and thus the threat it posed to West Africa was an excellent concern because it could lead to a yield loss of up to 90 percent or more.
These two viral diseases are transmitted by whiteflies, which are abundant in Ghana and disseminated by humans through the exchange and use of infected planting materials.
He said the havoc that the diseases could wreak on cassava production necessitated the meeting to debate the response plan and therefore the role of key stakeholders.
He expressed the hope that the response plan and its implementation would receive support and cooperation from stakeholders to contribute to Ghana’s effort in controlling the disease.
Dr. Allen Oppong, a Senior Research Scientist at CSIR and Ghana’s leader of the West Africa Virus Epidemiology (WAVE), who presented the objectives and outputs of the plan, said out of the 2 viral diseases, the foremost prevalent within the country was the African cassava mosaic viral disease.
He said the cassava mosaic disease varied from country to country, including, Cameroon, South African, Ivory Coast, and Ghana.
Any of those varied types have a significant effect on the cassava crop and end in about 20 to 40 percent loss in yields.
Dr. Oppong said although the cassava brown steak viral disease wasn’t yet in Ghana, there was a requirement for stakeholders to organize for its control to stop the devastating effects on cassava production.
He said farmers often didn’t know the symptoms of the cassava viral diseases and indicated that the Ghana cassava response plan spelled out elaborate education of farmers to boost awareness of the diseases.
It would also help to market the highly resistant cassava crops produced out of research to farmers as a measure to regulate the viral diseases.
Dr. Oppong said the key structure of the response plan when accepted by all key stakeholders would be the fixing of an Emergency Operation Centre (ECO) to facilitate all activities towards a fast response against the cassava viral diseases.
Nana Fobi Kropa, the Chief of Atwimanim, who chaired the function, noted that cassava provided food and jobs for several Ghanaians, and therefore, commended stakeholders for the response to decide to improve cassava production.