Malawi: The variety makes the difference for farmers fighting cassava mosaic disease

March 27, 2017
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It is a beautiful sunny day and Maria Stima is leading a group of farmers in joyful song and dance. They are singing the praises of a cassava variety that saved her and her friends from the nightmare that was cassava mosaic disease.

In the song, the farmers praise Sauti, a new variety of cassava. They sing, “Sauti perseveres despite diseases, Sauti gives more yields, Sauti did it.”

Mrs. Stima lives in Kalilangwe village in Nkhotakota district, in Malawi’s Central Region. She was one of the first farmers to grow Sauti, and is multiplying the cuttings to make money. Sauti is in high demand because of its high yield and resistance to cassava mosaic disease.

Last year, Mrs. Stima sold more cassava cuttings than other farmers in her group. Mrs. Stima says, “I am the most joyful farmer in the group because during the last harvest in April 2016, I earned $60 US.”  She sells each bundle of 50 cuttings for $0.50 US. The cuttings were used by other farmers who needed clean cuttings to plant.

Stella Mangochi is the crops officer and plant doctor in the area. She says that the Sauti variety was introduced to farmers in the area to deal with the low yields caused by cassava mosaic disease.

She explains: “Sauti is in very high demand because it is early-maturing, disease-resistant, tasty, and produces very white and good quality flour, which farmers like. It is the high demand that has made government and partners engage early adopters of the variety to multiply the cuttings.”

Mrs. Stima formed a group with other cassava farmers to share their experiences dealing with mosaic disease. Ephraim Mulauzi is a member of the group. He says cassava mosaic disease devastated his area of central Malawi, but that Sauti has improved the situation.

Farmers had been growing Gomani, a sweet variety, and Beatrice, a bitter variety. The farmers mostly sold Gomani, and consumed Beatrice. Mr. Mulauzi says Gomani is no longer grown in the area because is very susceptible to cassava mosaic disease.

Mr. Mulauzi says the extension officer certifies cassava cuttings grown by farmers. He explains: “We are required to move around the garden to monitor if there is any plant attacked, and if any [plant] is found infected, we remove all the affected plants on time. When the extension officer is satisfied with the amount of care given to the field, they recommend the field for buying.”

Beatrice Chilonda is a member of the group, and benefits from Sauti. She used to simply burn cuttings of the old varieties as firewood because there was no demand. But now she can earn money by selling cuttings of the new variety.

Miss Chilonda says farmers were trained how to ensure that cassava cuttings are good for planting. She explains: “We are told to separate varieties and not to mix them up. Sauti should be on a stand-alone plot and the old cassava varieties on a separate plot, too. We do not want the disease from one plant or variety to go to other varieties.”

Because she is benefitting from the new variety, Mrs. Stima plans to expand her cassava multiplication garden to 0.4 hectares. That way, she can earn enough money to buy iron sheets for a new roof on her house, which she built with income from selling cassava. She says, “I want to graduate from grass-thatched houses. I want to achieve this while the Sauti cassava cuttings are still in very high demand.”

Photo: Farmers in Nkhotakota district, Malawi.

This story was created with the support of CABI Plantwise through Farm Radio Trust.