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The WAVE The West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) Project's bi-monthly newsletter

Editorial

Dear Friends,

We are happy to present to you the inaugural issue of the WAVE newsletter. We are starting this bi-monthly journal as a way to keep in touch with a broad target audience, including scientists from around the world, students, farmer cooperatives, policy-makers, traditional rulers and the media, who are all an essential part of our journey.

We thought The WAVE would be a great way to share our stories of impact, our latest news and our partners’ events that touch close to home. We hope that through this new tool, you can get to know more about WAVE, our purpose and achievements, and that we can find ways to reach our common goals together.

In this first issue we will be introducing WAVE to those of you who are not familiar with our work. We will also take you backstage at the first WAVE-organized seminar of African cassava virologists and breeders as well as the Cotonou international conference we co-organized from 7–8 June 2018. Finally, we will share exciting prospects of WAVE’s forefront participation at the Grand Challenges Annual Meeting to be held from 15–18 October 2018 in Berlin.

We hope you will welcome this new effort of ours to connect with you. We want this newsletter to be valuable to you so please share your feedback and suggestions to help us improve.

Happy reading!

Dr. Justin PITA

WAVE Executive Director

WAVE in its own words: a sit down with Dr. Justin Pita

Let us tell you a little bit about who we are and what we stand for at the West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) Program, through a discussion with Dr. Justin Pita, one of the founders and the Executive Director of the Program. We sat with Dr. Pita in his office at the Scientific Pole for Innovation of Université Félix Houphouet-Boigny, Bingerville, Côte d’Ivoire, which is home to the WAVE headquarters.

1. Can you describe the WAVE Program in a nutshell?

WAVE is a college of West and Central African scientists promoting agricultural science in an innovative way for the benefit of smallholder farmers to enhance productivity.

2. In its three years of existence, what have been the main achievements of the Program?

I will say our main achievement is the fact that WAVE has been able to establish an effective system showing that National Agricultural Research Systems can be trusted, that they can deliver if they have effective institutional support. We think that WAVE has been able to demonstrate it’s possible to trust the NARS in this regard.

3. What does success for WAVE look like? Or said otherwise, what do you hope to achieve with WAVE?

This question refers us back to our vision: success for WAVE means disease-free crops for income and food security for all in Africa.

4. As the Program’s Executive Director, what lessons have you learned over the past three years?

The main lesson I have learned is that we should be careful putting a network together. We have to choose the right partners and it is very important to take the time to put this network together by picking the best. We are lucky at WAVE to have the best Country team leaders and the best institutions in West and Central Africa. This is an important key to our success. To anybody who wants to put such a network together, this is an important part of your success.

5. What are the main challenges the Program faces today?

The main challenge is to get government support at all levels (for funding, to build a strategy to respond to viral disease threats). We really want to engage with the various governments where WAVE is implemented; this is our current challenge and we hope to be able to overcome it.

6. Tell us how you’ve approached change in order to achieve more impact

Our recipe is really thinking out of the box, but, by doing so, we have to listen carefully to those who have been there before us, who did it before us. You cannot always reinvent the wheel, so it is very important to learn from their mistakes and their achievements. For example, we learnt a lot from the Cassava Diagnostics Project in East Africa. We are also trying to innovate in the way we conduct our research while taking into consideration the specific context of the Program's location. This is very important.

7. What is your hope/vision for WAVE’s future?

Our short-term vision is to expand WAVE to more countries. We currently are in seven countries (Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Togo, Nigeria, Ghana and Democratic Republic of the Congo). We wish to expand our activities to five more countries (Cameroon, Gabon, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) and to be able to show a model that can be duplicated for all types of crops, not just tuber crops. We would love to see scientists create a similar network for vegetables or any type of crop facing challenges. This is really our hope for the future. Our long-term vision for WAVE is to see the Program serving also as a plant clinic.

8. One last message for our readers?

I would like to invite The WAVE readers to visit our website on wave-edu.org to learn more about what we do, but also to contact us if they have questions or suggestions to improve the Program. Together, we will make WAVEs to change Africa.

Laying the foundations for common guidelines: the first African cassava breeders’ and virologists’ workshop

A thorough knowledge of the diseases that affect cassava in Africa is a challenge in itself. Controlling these diseases is, therefore, similar to the twelve labors of Hercules. It is a titanic task that cannot be done alone. Based on this observation, the WAVE Program thought that the time had come to build bridges between scientists from the different disciplines, whose missions are to improve cassava productivity in Africa by minimizing the impact of viral diseases that affect the crop.

It was from this perspective that the first seminar of African cassava virologists and breeders was held in Abidjan 11–13 April 2018, under the theme ‟Laying the foundations for common guidelines".

Nearly forty scientists (cassava breeders and virologists) from Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Nigeria, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia converged to Abidjan for this unprecedented meeting.

The objectives of the seminar were to develop synergy between breeders and virologists, harmonize views for better management of cassava varieties and initiate discussions for the adoption of a naming convention for cassava varieties grown in Africa.

One of the significant achievements of the meeting was the creation of the first pan-African network of cassava breeders and virologists.

African cassava breeders’ and virologists’ workshop inauguration family picture

The Cotonou International Conference: finding the strength in togetherness

From 7–9 June 2018, the WAVE Program, along with the Government of Benin organized a high-level ministerial meeting for joint action by 12 African countries to respond to the impending spread of cassava viral diseases.

The Cotonou International Conference has the strong belief that proactiveness is a key to lifting Africa out of poverty. The main objective of the meeting was to raise awareness and galvanize support from key stakeholders for the management and control of cassava viral disease threats; in particular, cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), which is currently spreading from East and Central Africa to West Africa.

Nearly 300 participants, including government Ministers, traditional leaders, leaders of NARS and University programs, and regional institutions’ representatives, from 16 countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo, took part in this important conference.

The meeting provided participants with an opportunity to learn more about cassava viral diseases and the threat they pose to food security in Africa.

The conference was considered a historic milestone for acknowledging Africa’s kings and traditional rulers as major stakeholders in the fight against cassava viral diseases. These leaders actively participated in the discussions and expressed their willingness to play an active part in the fight against CBSD, alongside governments, scientists and cassava smallholder farmers.

Acknowledging the need for urgent response mechanisms, the participants to the conference engaged in highly interactive sessions during which they discussed the way forward and lay the foundations for national emergency response plans. WAVE has strongly advocated the implementation of such plans, which would be extremely valuable in the fight against cassava viral diseases.

Dr Justin Pita, WAVE’s Executive Director making a plea for national and regional CBSD response plans during the Cotonou International Conference opening ceremony on 7 June 2018
Kings, traditional rulers, and heads of institutions at the Cotonou International Conference opening ceremony on 7 June 2018
Ministers of Agriculture and Ministers of Higher Education and Scientific Research from Gabon, Burkina Faso and Benin at the Cotonou International Conference opening ceremony on 7 June 2018
The delegates from Ghana presenting the first steps to a national CBSD response plan during the technical sessions at the Cotonou International Conference

The WAVE Science Club on the importance of sharing knowledge

Dr. Nigel Taylor’s (center) posing with October 8th WSC attendees

In October 2018, the WAVE program’s headquarters in Côte d’Ivoire launched a new initiative: the WAVE Science Club (WSC). Every quarter, world-renowned scientists will participate in the WSC to share their knowledge and the significant advances made in their field.

The seminars offered during the WSC are open to all researchers, students and university professors in Côte d’Ivoire and offer a unique opportunity to engage with some of the best agricultural scientists in the world. Through the WSC, participants can: learn more about the work other researchers are doing; ask questions that can help to advance their own research; and establish direct contact with guest scientists.

On October 8, the WSC was delighted to welcome Dr. Nigel Taylor, the first scientist to be invited to talk at the Club. Dr. Taylor serves as a principal investigator at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St Louis, USA; the largest independent not-for-profit plant science research institute in the world. His research focuses on plant tissue culture and the genetic transformation technologies required to deliver genetically improved cassava to farmers in Africa. The Taylor lab leads the Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project and is focused on developing virus resistant cassava in collaboration with researchers in Uganda and Kenya.

In front of an audience of 64 people from universities and research centers across Côte d’Ivoire, Dr. Taylor gave a presentation on the application of biotechnology for the improvement of cassava and other African crops and answered many questions from the audience.

Upcoming events

15–18 October 2018: Grand Challenges Annual Meeting

WAVE will attend the 14th Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in Berlin, Germany where our very own Dr. Angela Eni, Country team leader in Nigeria will be a spotlight speaker. We will give you unprecedented front row seats to this exciting venture in a special issue of The WAVE dedicated to this meeting.

5–10 November 2018: Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE) Project Meeting

The Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa (BecA-ILRI Hub) will be hosting the PIRE Project annual meeting at International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) headquarters in Nairobi. Bringing together partners from the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI) from Tanzania, International research institutions from the USA, BecA-ILRI and other partners (including WAVE), the meeting will be an opportunity to discuss the project’s work and progress.

26–29 November 2018: AWARD Steering Committee Meeting and 10-year Anniversary

This year marks the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) project’s 10-year anniversary. This is will be celebrated in Nairobi at the project’s headquarters, which will also be hosting the Steering Committee meeting. More to come on this in The WAVE December issue.

Contact us

Adja Ndiaye

adjaaminata.ndiaye@gmail.com

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