Malawi: Handle with care: Farmers learn to prevent cassava mosaic disease

| March 27, 2017

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Achipera Nankambi sits on the veranda of her beautiful grass-thatched house with two farmers, trading stories. Lake Malawi is in the distance, and its waves gently wash the shore. Mrs. Nankambi lives in Nkhotakota district, in Malawi’s Central Region. Today, she shares the story of her experience with cassava mosaic disease.

Mrs. Nankambi started growing cassava with her parents when she was a young girl, back in the 1950s. They grew a variety called Mwatatu, which she says was not attacked by any diseases.

But when cassava farmers starting growing varieties such as Gomani, they found that some varieties were more susceptible to disease, including cassava mosaic disease.

In 2005, cassava mosaic disease first emerged in her area, and Mrs. Nankambi lost her whole crop. She explains: “I lost everything in my two-hectare field. Later, I was told by the extension worker to stop planting the Gomani variety and I was introduced to Sauti as a way of dealing with the spread of the disease.”

Cassava is an important crop in Malawi. Most cassava is grown for domestic use in lakeshore districts like Nkhotakota. After harvest, farmers peel, cook, and partly dry the tuber before pounding it into flour, which is cooked into nsima ya kondoole (cassava meal).

Many farmers in Nkhotakota were affected by cassava mosaic disease in 2005 and 2006. But Ramadhan Saidi was fortunate. His crop wasn’t affected until 2006, and by then he was already aware of the disease. He received support quickly from the agriculture office, which sprayed chemicals to prevent the disease from spreading.

Stellia Mangochi is a crops officer in the district, and helps farmers produce high-quality cassava to meet the high demand for the crop. She says the spread of diseases has been a challenge. She explains: “Cassava is attacked by a wide range of diseases that are problematic, with the major one being mosaic disease. This viral disease is caused by whiteflies that transmit the disease from one plant to another.”

Cassava mosaic disease also spreads when farmers plant cuttings from infected plants. The best way to prevent the disease is to plant healthy, disease-free cuttings.

But Mrs. Nankambi says that disease-free cuttings are in short supply. As a result, farmers are tempted to share and plant cuttings from the previous season, which may leave their crop susceptible to mosaic disease.

Mrs. Mangochi advises farmers to handle cuttings carefully, as bruises and wounds can act as an entry point for disease. Crop rotation can also prevent buildup of disease.

Mrs. Nankambi says that information is important to controlling cassava mosaic disease. She adds: “The problem is that, if you do not tell your colleagues how to fight the disease, you are not doing justice to yourself—because the virus will somehow still spread from their gardens to yours.”

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

Photo credit: Davis Monniaux