Malawi scientists in Tanzania for global conference on plant viral disease

Over 200 scientists and leading experts on plant viruses have gathered in Arusha, Tanzania for a five-day global conference to reflect on a global strategy to combat emerging and re-emerging diseases with a focus on Africa.

The participants, drawn from over 40 countries around the world including Malawi, will also provide researchers a platform to share experiences, latest knowledge and technologies, brainstorm and draw a roadmap to control plant virus diseases, according to Dr Lava Kumar, the conference’s chairperson.

Under the theme “Evolution, Ecology and Control of Plant Viruses,” the 12th International Plant Virus Epidemiology (IPVE) symposium is taking place in Africa for the first time.

“The event is very special as it is taking place in Africa for the first time and will therefore devote a lot of time to explore the key challenges facing the continent in tackling the key viral diseases to increase agricultural productivity, food availability and economic development,” said Dr Kumar, a virologist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

Scientists at the symposium
Scientists at the symposium

Opening the event on Monday, Dr Elly Kafiriti, Director of the Naliendele Research Institute in Tanzania noted the negative impact of plant viruses on food security in Africa fueled by poor agronomic practices of resource-poor small-holder farmers.

Also speaking Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of IITA observed that the plant viruses are spreading rapidly to new places thereby frustrating efforts to boost food security and livelihoods of millions of African people.

“These viruses include the deadly cassava brown streak, banana bunchy top disease, rice yellow mottle, and maize streak virus, among others,” he said.

He, however, observed that cassava production was picking up in Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda and Tanzania but two viral diseases- Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) and Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) – pose a big threat to the crop as they spread to new areas and ravage the crop
hence affecting food security.

Dr Sanginga also expressed hope that cassava would be the crop of the future for Africa, noting that it was not only a food security crop but also holds immense potential as an income earner as it was a source of industrial raw materials such as glucose and starch.

“The future of this crop in the continent is bright. However, it faces many challenges including the two viral diseases that are a headache to our farmers and policymakers,” he said. “We need science to solve these problems.”

Plant viruses are among the major factors that affect productivity and cause vast economic losses to staple crops in Africa and other developing regions across the tropics.

The IPVE is a specialist committee on plant virus epidemiology of the International Society of Plant Pathology (ISPP) and has previously conducted 11 international symposia in different parts of the world.

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