West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE), the body in charge of addressing diseases of root/tuber crops, on Monday raised alarm over two emerging cassava diseases in Nigeria.
Dr Justin Pita, Executive Director of WAVE, at the second Annual General Meeting of stakeholders from the West African sub-region in Abuja, identified the two new diseases as begomovirus and brown streak viruses.
He said that the diseases, which originated from East Africa, were moving toward Central Africa and West Africa, adding that Nigeria was not, therefore, immune to its effects.
He said that these viruses had negatively affected cassava production in sub-Saharan Africa, adding that it would be disastrous if the Federal Government failed to initiate urgent measures to forestall their outbreak in Nigeria.
“The diseases are not yet in West Africa or Nigeria, in particular, but we have to create tangible awareness on its existence and its possible impact on the nation’s cassava production if eventually it happens.
“We don’t have it yet in Nigeria; that is a blessing but we have to prevent it from entering the country and that is the reason why we are working on this project.
“One of the key roles which WAVE plays is to address the fact that effective fight against viruses requires a strong understanding of how the disease in question spreads, which allows us to plan ahead for its control.
“WAVE also recognises that even if the viruses are existing in the region for decades, they can explode suddenly into large-scale threats if they are not well monitored and controlled,’’ he said.
Pita, therefore, urged the Federal Government to be aware of existence of the diseases, while striving to train more food scientists to tackle them.
He said that WAVE was working to monitor and predict the emergence, evolution and spread of these viruses by bringing together 10 research institutes, universities in seven countries in West and Central Africa.
Also speaking, Prof. Joseph Ukpabi, Acting Executive Director, National Root Crops Research Institute, Umudike, said that the institute was statutorily mandated to conduct research into the genetic improvement, production, processing and storage of root crops in the country.
According to him, the marketing of root and tuber crops such as cassava, yam, sweet potato and cocoyam, among others, also constitute areas of priority for the institute.
Ukpabi noted that the WAVE project was aimed at increasing productivity and yield stability of root and tuber crops in Nigeria, adding that the institute would partner with the body to achieve these aims.
While declaring the forum open, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Audu Ugbeh, lauded the WAVE project team for its concern over Nigeria’s agricultural growth.
Ugbeh, who was represented by Mr Segun Ageni, Director of Root Crops in the ministry, commended WAVE for its numerous achievements within the two years of its operations in the West African sub-region.
He assured WAVE of the Federal Government’s commitment and collaboration in the nascent efforts to combat the newly discovered diseases and prevent them from coming into the country.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the forum was attended by stakeholders from some African countries and food scientists from Europe.