Friday, March 19, 2010


Farmers in Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Kogi,
Nasarawa and Benue will receive
the improved cassava varieties.
Farmers in seven Nigerian states will benefit from the distribution of free improved cassava varieties, thanks to the IITA implemented project "Unleashing the Power of Cassava in Africa".

Richardson Okechukwu, the IITA-UPoCA Deputy Project Manager, said: “In Nigeria, we aim to empower 75,000 farms with improved varieties by the end of 2010. We also expect cassava yield in these areas to increase by at least 30%.”

But the distribution of improved cassava varieties is only one of a number of activities planned for 2010 by the project.

Researchers are also pushing improved processing and utilization technologies to create more markets for the crop.

Awareness building is also a top priority and at two Training of Trainers courses, farmers, processors, Women in Agriculture of Agricultural Development Programs, NGOs, and other private business firms were given special lessons on how to maximise their work.

Participants were taught how to process 21 food products and exposed to mechanized processing using motorized cassava graters and double screw presses both developed by IITA. The course also stressed the importance of packaging, marketing and labelling.

2010 is quickly shaping up to be the year for Nigerian cassava growers and processors. With the help of IITA they should see an increase in incomes and food security.

IITA’s UPoCA project, funded by US AID,
is also being implemented in Sierra Leone, Ghana,
Tanzania, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo,
and Mozambique.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Researchers at IITA are intensifying efforts to find a sustainable and natural solution to control populations of the whitefly - Bemisia tabaci.

These tiny insects transmit the viruses that cause Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava Brown Streak Disease. Together these diseases are wreaking havoc with Africa’s cassava production, causing an estimated US$ 1 billion worth of damage annually.

In addition to transmitting viruses, whitefly also cause physical damage to the cassava plants. Studies conducted in Uganda showed that yield losses from whitefly damage alone can be as much as 50%.

IITA is investing in a two year project that will identify the most effective natural enemies of the whitefly so they can be deployed to reduce their populations. It will also explore cassava varieties, including wild relatives, with resistance to the pest. The project will be carried out in collaboration with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture and the University of Tel Aviv in Israel and will target Nigeria, Cameroon, and Tanzania.

The whitefly has several parasitoid (parasitic wasps) enemies that develop within young whitefly larvae, eventually killing them. Although local parasitoids already take out up to half of all whitefly young, the new project aims to make this control even stronger by introducing exotic varieties.

Dr James Legg, an IITA entomologist who has been working on cassava diseases for over 10 years, said: “We have been studying the biological characteristics and genetics of this ‘super-abundant’ Bemisia whitefly and assessing its local natural enemies. With the new project, we will intensify our efforts to search for and test the effectiveness of these natural enemies as part of an integrated disease management strategy.”

In the past IITA has successfully implemented classical biocontrol programmes. With this new project it is hoped that by combining biocontrols in novel ways with host plant resistance greater strides can be made in tackling one of Africa’s most destructive pests.

Adult whitefly.

Friday, March 5, 2010


The Government of Thailand, through its Department of Agriculture has requested the assistance of IITA to help in the biological control of the cassava mealybug, which has recently invaded the country and possibly Laos and Cambodia.
The cassava mealybug, Phenacoccus manihoti, is originally from South America. It sucks the sap out of plants causing abnormal growth, a sooty mould, wilting and discolouration. A severe attack can have devastating effects on cassava plantations. 
 The mealybug has already spread over 160,000 hectares across the East and North-eastern provinces of Thailand, where cassava is an important export crop. The bug was not immediately recognized because another closely related mealybug species common on cassava confused the situation.

To halt the spread of the mealybug a colony of wasps, the natural enemy of the pest, has been imported into Thailand from the IITA laboratories in Benin by Georg Goergen, an IITA Entomologist.
Anagyrus lopezi is a parasitoid wasp that also comes from South America. It lays its eggs on the cassava mealybug so that when its larvae are fully grown they can eat the bug. Using a biological control like this wasp negates the need for harmful chemicals.
The same mealybug caused widespread devastation and famine when it destroyed cassava in Africa in the late 1970s. IITA came to the rescue then too, when they led a group of institutions in a campaign to find, import, rear and distribute the wasps from South America. By 1981, the wasps were located in Paraguay and later in Brazil; then shipped to IITA where they were mass-reared and distributed. The campaign was one of the greatest recent successes in biological control.

The African success story means that experts are able to deal with infestations faster and at reduced costs because of the techniques learnt then. It is hoped that IITA’s involvement in the mealybug control project in Asia will produce similar positive results.