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Bioscience Issues

Claude Fauquet

Will Transgenic Cassava Improve

the Life of Poor Cassava Farmers in Africa?

C.M. Fauquet

Director GCP21

CIAT, Apdo. Aereo 6713, Cali, Colombia


Cassava is the fourth most important source of calories in the Developing World and the most important food crop in sub-Saharan African countries.  Africa, which produces 50% of cassava global production, has the lowest average yield in the world with 10t/Ha.  The large increase in cassava production recorded in the last 50 years in Africa is largely due to extension of cultivated land; only about one third of this increase can be attributed to real crop productivity improvement.  In Africa, viral diseases have a very high impact on cassava productivity and it is recognized that a minimum of 30% of the African cassava crop is lost to cassava mosaic disease (CMD).  For more than one hundred years, we have witnessed the spread of viral pandemics across the continent.  The last CMD pandemic, caused by ssDNA geminiviruses, started in the early 90s in Uganda and crossed the continent in 12 years, reaching Cameroon, close to Nigeria, the largest producer of cassava in the world.  A new pandemic, the cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), caused by two ipomoviruses (RNA viruses), started on the East African coast in 2003 and invaded all the highlands in the East African cassava-producing countries to become the most important constraint to the crop in this region and threatening to spread across the continent.  VIRCA (Virus Resistance for Cassava in Africa) is working at improving cassava for these two viral diseases using genetic engineering and we have been conducting a number of field trials in Uganda, and Kenya to this effect since 2009.  The goal of the project is now to deliver these traits in farmer’s preferred cassava cultivars in these target countries by 2016-2020.  The first product is called TME204R and the first batch of plants has been planted in March 2013, and the selected best event should be ready for deployment by the fall of 2016.  The second product called EbwanaterakaR is under production and will need more time.  A very important element for the success of such long and ambitious plan will be the rate of adoption of transgenic cassava products by farmers and consumers.  To better evaluate this rate of adoption, the John Templeton Fdn is supporting a project aiming at reaching cassava farmers and traders in Uganda and Kenya with appropriate questionnaires to quantify this adoption rate and to perform an ex-ante study to calculate the impact on the cassava production in these countries.  The study is also aiming at identifying if GM cassava products would have issue for adoption by farmers and consumers.  This information will be invaluable to adopt the best communication plan and to develop the best deployment plan to potentially reach hundreds of thousands of farmers in a short period of time after these products will be accepted for commercialization by the biosafety authorities of these two countries. Two methods to evaluate the need of such products and their economical impact in the region have been designed and a questionnaire for farmers and traders is under completion.