Burundi: Farmers revive cassava with help of disease-free cuttings (UN Food and Agriculture Organization)

| December 1, 2008

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With smooth strokes of his machete, Ernest Nduwimana takes cuttings from a cassava plant on his field near the village of Munyika, in northwestern Burundi. Under the burning morning sun, satisfaction seems to radiate from his face.

Just five years ago, Mr. Nduwiman was not so pleased with his crops. At that time, an aggressive strain of Cassava Mosaic Disease began a devastating march through the country. The leaves of his cassava plants displayed the telltale spots of Cassava Mosaic Disease, which stunts the growth of cassava tubers beneath the soil. Farms in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, were also affected.

But Mr. Nduwiman has high hopes for this growing season – and with good reason. This is the second season that he has planted virus-free cassava cuttings, which were distributed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to 330,000 smallholder farmers in affected countries.

Mr. Nduwiman is now spreading his good fortune. He will take his cuttings to a neighbouring farm that the FAO calls the “mother plantation.” The mother plantation is a 20-acre field where disease-free cassava was first planted in 2005. The cassava grown here produces cuttings that will be distributed to local smallholders through a network of farmers’ groups, schools, and churches.

Salvator Kaboneka is an FAO agronomist working with the cassava initiative. He explains that every cassava plant can provide at least ten useable cuttings. At this rate, Mr. Kaboneka says, it will only take one more year for Burundian farmers to replant the 84,000 hectares of cassava found in the country before the arrival of Cassava Mosaic Disease.

The revival of cassava means a return of food security for many families. The average African eats about 80 kilograms of cassava per year. For his part, Mr. Nduwiman is used to eating the tuber once or twice a day. He can’t wait to enjoy this year’s harvest raw, with some groundnuts.

Surrounded by healthy green cassava leaves, Mr. Nduwiman unearths a tuber and holds it up proudly. “It’s sweet, not bitter,” he says of the tuber. And, since last season, there is enough to feed his family. After a long day in the field, he looks forward to a meal of bugari, a local dish based on cassava flour and served with beans and fish.