2020 is drawing to an end after long and difficult months of unprecedented turmoil, between working from home, safety measures, lockdowns, deconfinement, new lockdowns. COVID-19 has just begun disrupting our lives, as we are just beginning to learn to live with it, to think about a future in which we coexist with it. Researchers from around the world have been working relentlessly to find a cure for this disease, and the recent discovery of a vaccine is the result of tireless, innovative work. Innovate to save lives!
Here at WAVE, we have also been inspired by this drive to innovate to achieve food security in Africa, to innovate to protect the livelihoods of thousands of African farmers, to innovate to positively impact Africa.
To this end, we launched the activities of the FCIAD_WAVE project, based on the dissemination of an innovative technology for participatory diagnosis of cassava viral diseases in Côte d'Ivoire.
We then started field surveys in all the WAVE program countries to collect the data necessary for the epidemiological diagnosis and surveillance of root and tuber crops viral diseases. WAVE's survey protocol is unique in terms of both the process and the scientific tools used to obtain better scientific results.
We also officially launched WAVE program activities in Sierra Leone, one of the 3 countries that joined the WAVE network in its second phase. Sierra Leone will thus benefit from the technological and scientific tools used in all WAVE implementing countries.
Finally, we are pleased to present the Data Cube, an online database designed by Scriptoria for the analysis of WAVE scientific data.
Dear friends, in this latest issue of The WAVE, we will take you to the heart of our recent Research and Development activities and share with you our vision for Africa and its brave farmers. We hope you enjoy reading about our work.
Happy reading and Enjoy your holidays!
I am Dr. Kouassi Nazaire, Technical Expert at WAVE and coordinator of the FCIAD_WAVE project. I am a specialist in molecular virology and epidemiology of crop plant viruses, with over 25 years of experience, including 7 years as head of the Central Biotechnology Laboratory of the National Center for Agronomic Research (CNRA) of Côte d'Ivoire.
1. What is the FCIAD_WAVE project? What are its objectives?
Cassava is the second most important food crop in Côte d'Ivoire with an estimated production of 5,367,000 tons in 2017 (FAO). However, cassava production is threatened by several pests and diseases, including Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) present in Côte d'Ivoire and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), which is more devastating for cassava. CBSD is spreading from East Africa to West Africa through Central Africa where it has been reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
To address this issue, the FCIAD_WAVE project proposes the dissemination of " the use of an intelligent application for participatory diagnosis and monitoring of cassava diseases in Côte d'Ivoire ". This application will enable extension agents, plant material suppliers and cassava producers to be more efficient and autonomous in identifying diseases and other pests in cassava fields.
This project has been granted with 95 million F CFA by the Competitive Fund for Sustainable Agricultural Innovation (CFSAI), for an 18 months period and is implemented by WAVE. The objective of this project is to contribute to cassava productivity improvement in Côte d'Ivoire by monitoring and protecting cassava against viral diseases.
The specific objectives of the project are:
- Dissemination of the use of the Nuru application for the participatory diagnosis of diseases encountered in cassava fields;
- Capacity building of agricultural technicians, cassava producers and multipliers to diagnose cassava diseases through technology (Nuru Application);
- Molecular detection and characterization of pathogens responsible for the disease in the suspect samples collected.
2. What are the regions of implementation of the FCIAD_WAVE project and which populations will benefit from this project?
The pilot departments for the implementation of the project are the departments of Dabou, Jacqueville, Yamoussoukro and Bouaké. These departments have been chosen because they are areas of intense cassava production and processing activities with several cassava varieties grown by farmers. Dabou and Jacqueville are also traditional production areas and Yamoussoukro and Bouaké are new areas of intensive cassava production.
Producers, multipliers and extension agents in the above-mentioned departments are the beneficiaries of this project. The FCIAD_WAVE project will also contribute to increasing the financial autonomy of women cassava producers. This application will be deployed by the project team with the help of extension agents previously trained on the use of Nuru application.
3. The FCIAD_WAVE project highlights an important innovation in the regional fight against cassava viral diseases in West and Central Africa. What is this innovation and how does it work?
The CDD-APP (Cassava Diseases Detection Application), also called Nuru, installed in a smartphone for the detection of cassava diseases, is the innovation of the FCIAD_WAVE project. It was designed in 2012 by researchers from Pennsylvania State University (PSU) in collaboration with researchers from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). It’s based on an artificial intelligence that uses a Google program called TensorFlow that allows the application to recognize symptoms of plant diseases and insect damage.
Nuru application consists of presenting 3 cassava leaves to the smartphone camera to obtain a vocal and written diagnosis (on the phone screen) with the name of the disease detected on the plant. In addition, it allows, in case of doubt, to send photos to experts for further diagnosis. In case of suspicion of a cassava viral disease not yet present in Côte d'Ivoire, an alert will be transmitted in order to trigger a response according to the procedures set out in the Ivorian response plan against cassava viral diseases, initiated by the WAVE program and signed by the Ivorian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development.
Nuru operated in real time and allows the farmer to actively participate in the diagnosis of diseases present in his field and in their management to minimize yield loss. Its use by stakeholders in the cassava value chain will certainly help avoid the use of CMD infected cuttings for the creation of new plantations and slow down the introduction of CBSD in Côte d'Ivoire.
Nuru has already been successfully tested in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. It will be deployed for the first time in Côte d'Ivoire for the diagnosis of cassava diseases in farmers' fields.
4. Who are the main partners of the FCIAD_WAVE project and how does the WAVE program collaborate with them?
WAVE, the lead partner in this project, will collaborate with the University of Pennsylvania States for the deployment of the Nuru technology. The WAVE_FCIAD team will work with a researcher from the University PELEFORO GON COULIBALY (UPGC), in partnership with the Agence National d'Appui au Développement Rural (ANADER) which has a solid experience in popularizing research results, technology transfer and innovations to the farming community. These partnerships will facilitate the implementation of project activities and the adoption of the Nuru App by the target populations.
5. What is the state of progress of the project activities and what are the next steps?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, field activities have been slightly delayed. However, since June 2020, the project team has been working relentlessly to complete the project activities in order to meet the initial timeline. We have therefore:
- Produced an educational and audiovisual document on cassava diseases and their damage in the fields;
- Sensitized and identified more than 1000 producers, multipliers and extension agents in the departments of Dabou, Jacqueville, Yamoussoukro and Bouaké, on cassava diseases and the existence of a dedicated technology for the identification of these diseases;
- Identified, georeferenced and materialized demonstration plots of cassava farmers' fields;
- Trained some 40 agricultural advisers from the departments of Dabou, Jacqueville, Yamoussoukro and Bouaké on viral, bacterial and fungal diseases and insect damage recognition, as well as the functions of the Nuru application, setting-it up in a smartphone and using it for disease identification in a cassava field.
We are quite confident about the future activities and hope that they will take place in the best possible conditions.
Field surveys in Gabon: Testimony from the Country Director, Prof. Jacques François Mavoungou
After a long lockdown due to COVID 19 spreading, the WAVE Gabon team launched its survey activities in September 2020. They took place in the two major provinces of Gabon with a total of 08 departments and 39 villages prospected..
Contact with farmers was very friendly. We met many local producers with whom we exchanged by first assessing their level of information on cassava diseases, in particular the cassava mosaic. Then, we trained them on the recognition of CMD symptoms and sensitized them on the importance of adopting good agricultural practices, particularly by selecting healthy cuttings when renewing their fields.
All cassava value chain stakeholders we encountered, unanimously expressed their willingness to receive frequent capacity building trainings not only on epidemiological surveillance, but also on good agricultural practices for production improvement.
However, we faced some difficulties, particularly during these surveys:
- Accessibility of the farms: It should be noted that cassava fields in Gabon are not on the roadside, but often 1, to 3 km from major roads. It is necessary to walk long distances to visit fields located in forest areas. For the facilitation of the survey missions, the support of the Ministry of Agriculture was solicited through the provincial and departmental agricultural officials, who played a key role in making contacts and identifying tracks leading to the cassava fields.
- The distance between departments in the same province : The surface area of Gabon is large with distanced provinces. As not all roads are paved, access to some departments required a lot of effort and driving skills.
After this first phase of surveys, laboratory work for molecular diagnostics has started, pending the launch of the second phase in the other provinces.
Field surveys in Cameroon: Testimony from the Country Director, Dr. Oumar Doungous
Surveys in Cameroon started in August 2020. Cassava is produced in almost all 10 regions of Cameroon. To date, 8 regions have been surveyed, representing 246 fields.
Contact with the local population, farmers and cassava producers, went very well. The farmers gave us a warm welcome. However, we noticed that many farmers were not aware of cassava viral diseases. Therefore, we sensitized them on CMD symptoms recognition and management with a focus on the use of resistant varieties and healthy cuttings for new fields.
However, during these surveys, we encountered some difficulties related to:
- Certain populations reluctance : in some cases, local populations did not grant us permission to visit fields when owners were absent. In most cases, we were able to convince them with pedagogy and diplomacy.
- The state of the roads : in some places, roads were really bumpy. We resorted to crossing rivers by walking or using the ferry to access the fields. In some areas, we couldn’t cross bridges because they were damaged by heavy trucks. The only solution was to turn back after travelling more than 300 km.
- In grazing areas, it is difficult to find cassava fields around villages. As the fields are far away from living areas, we often used local guides and went on foot to visit the fields.
The next steps after these surveys will be laboratory analysis. These will take place in the laboratories of WAVE Gabon or WAVE DRC, while waiting to finalize the construction of the WAVE Cameroon laboratory.
Surveys in Benin: Testimony from the Country Director, Prof. Corneille Ahanhanzo
Surveys in Benin took place in 72 of the 77 communes.
During these surveys, we encountered difficulties related mainly to the impracticability of many roads which did not allow the team to survey all planned localities and communes. For example, the communes of Sinendé and Karimama could not be surveyed due to the inaccessibility of the fields, in spite of the fact that all the communes bordering these two communes are CMD Hotspots.
We are now beginning the key stage of laboratory analyses.
As a reminder, Sierra Leone is one of the 3 countries that joined the WAVE program network in its second phase which officially started in November 2019. The objectives of the ceremony were to officially launch the program activities in Sierra Leone and to strengthen the collaboration between WAVE and its national partners to respond to the threats posed by cassava viruses in Sierra Leone.
The launching ceremony was highly supported by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, represented by its Deputy Minister, Hon. Samking Koihinah Braima, and the host institution of the WAVE program, Njala University, represented by its Vice-Chancellor, Professor Mohamed Bashiru Koroma. The personalities present at the ceremony renewed their support to WAVE and welcomed the launch of the program activities.
The launch activities continued on December 2, 2020, at Njala University for a coordination meeting with the University authorities followed by the scientific and technical training of WAVE Sierra Leone team on the WAVE harmonized protocol used during field surveys.
Thus, Dr. Fidèle Tiendrébéogo, WAVE Burkina Faso Country Director, trained the team on the use of a tablet equipped with an application designed by Cambridge University researchers, used to collect epidemiological data essential for laboratory diagnosis of viral diseases present in the surveyed fields. He then conducted a practical demonstration of the protocol in several cassava fields to familiarize the team with these scientific tools and processes.
Dr. Mohamed Ajuba Sheriff, Chief Agricultural Officer
“This program is aligned with the transformation plan of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. We have a task of achieving food security in the country and we also have a task of crop diversification as a strategy to attain that. (…) This program was carefully designed to meet our challenges. I am sure that once this project is implemented in the country, we will be able to achieve our desired results”.
Professor Mohamed Bashiru Koroma, Njala University Vice-Chancellor
“In conformity with the project overall objectives, which we have interpreted as to combat critical root and tuber crops viral diseases, specially Cassava Mosaic Disease and Cassava Brown Streak Disease, our focus will be in this direction and area of disease for us to create an enabling environment to interface this body in effort to protect animals and humans”