Friday, December 13, 2013

DR Congo releases six new cassava varieties … names one of the varieties after Paul Ilona

DR Congo has released six improved cassava varieties to help improve yields and incomes of farmers, thanks to collaborative efforts between IITA and the DR Congo National Institute of Agricultural Research (INERA).

Two of the six new varieties were introduced from IITA: MUTIENE (I 92/326) and BOMENGO (M98/115). The other four were selected in the country, LITOY (2006/114), MUZURI (2006/073), KANSAKAKO (MV2007/102) and ILONA (MV2007/126).

The harvest periods of the varieties vary from 12 to 20 months after planting with root yields of 21 to 47 t/ha. In addition, the varieties are resistant to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD), with a good level of tolerance to Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD). They are high yielding, early-to-late bulking, and adapted to various environments in DR Congo.

“They are all good for fufu, lituma, chikwangue, and pondu (cooked cassava leaves),” says Dr Nzola Mahungu, Cassava Breeder and IITA Country Representative in DR Congo.

The official release ceremony took place on Monday 11, November 2013 at the Research Centre of INERA at Mvuazi (in Bas Congo province, 200 km from Kinshasa). The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (John Chrysostome Vahamwiti) and the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific research (Bonaventure Chelo) were both at the ceremony.

Dr Mahungu explained that the varieties were developed through the IITA-Cassava project funded by USAID since 2001.

The addition of six new cassava varieties brings the total number to 20 since the project’s inception.

Speaking at the ceremony, Mr. Augustin Kadima Ngeleka who represented USAID/Kinshasa, appreciated the efforts made in the development of these new varieties and stressed the importance of cassava as the staple food and source of income of the Congolese population. He lauded IITA for putting to good use the US Government’s assistance to DR Congo, and wished that the new varieties would reach the farmers and other producers to have the desired impact on people’s livelihoods.

 “To achieve this, the new varieties must be spread in all ecological zones where they are adapted to meet farmers’ needs,” he said.
Ilona (middle) planting with DRC farmers

Explaining the naming of the new varieties by farmers, the Minister of Agriculture wanted to know the meaning of “Ilona” as it is not a Congolese word. He was told that farmers in Province Orientale always ask after Paul Ilona and have kept good memories of him. They recall the way he worked with them in participatory variety selection and how he fast-tracked cassava recovery in the province after the CMD invasion. Paul Ilona was instrumental in moving cassava breeding, looking at the  bigger picture of value chains,and helped to link farmers to processors. Thus, they named one of their best varieties  “Ilona”.

In accepting the naming, Paul Ilona wrote: “I am completely short of words and I do not know how many thank you rhymes  I should send to you and the team in DRC. However, the fact remains that you (Dr Nzola) with Dr Alfred Dixon gave me all the support I needed to make progress on cassava development in DRC. It is a collective honor for the cassava breeding team in IITA as it truly was a team work”.

Alfred Dixon, former Head of Cassava Breeding Unit at IITA, wrote: “Paul deserves it. When bullets were flying around, Paul was there to make sure the cassava improvement goal was met in DRC. I wish him many more successes in the cassava world.”

Paul Ilona, a former IITA staff, is now the Country Manager for HarvestPlus in Nigeria.

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