When a country’s main stakeholders unite to secure the supply of a staple crop, it’s an important event. But when that country is Nigeria, and when the crop is cassava, the event is especially momentous. That’s because cassava is the staple food of an estimated 800 million people world-wide, and Nigeria is the world’s largest producer of this commodity.
In June 2018, at the Cotonou conference in Benin, 12 Central and Western African countries pledged to strengthen their fight against viral diseases severely affecting the production of cassava. To build on the momentum the meeting created among stakeholders, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development decided to support the countries involved. This meant organizing national meetings to draft plans that respond to the threats caused by viral diseases in cassava.
In Nigeria, meetings in Abuja gathered together all major stakeholders. These included the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Nigeria Agricultural Seed Council, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, Nigerian Agricultural Quarantine Services, farmers’ associations, and the three institutions hosting the WAVE program – the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI) Umudike, Covenant University in Ota, and Kebbi State University of Science and Technology (KSUSTA).
In this special issue of The WAVE, we dive into the Abuja meetings that have led to the design of a concrete action plan to mitigate the threats to cassava from viral diseases in Nigeria. We will focus on the vision of the plan and highlight a few stakeholders’ thoughts on the importance of the document.
Dr. Justin Pita / WAVE Executive Director
SETTING THE SCENE
Held on 6 February 2019 at the Ibeto Hotel in Abuja, Nigeria, the national stakeholders’ workshop on the prevention of cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) gathered the main actors in the fight against the disease.
Thanking the attendees for their presence, NRCRI’s Dr. Joseph Onyeka, WAVE country team leader in Nigeria, quickly set the scene by reminding everyone that “cassava is our staple food and we cannot afford to lose it.”
During his opening presentation, Dr. Onyeka summed up the many achievements of the WAVE program. Notably, these achievements include: building local capacity by refurbishing and equipping research facilities and training farmers; conducting geo-referenced field surveys in Nigeria; and massively increasing awareness among policy-makers, the private sector and other stakeholders.
Dr. Onyeka justified the need for the meeting by saying that although CBSD is not yet in West Africa, it is rapidly spreading from East Africa. “We need to prepare and have a written response plan. This is a critical need”, he said, addressing crucial questions such as “what will we do if CBSD is observed in a farm in Nigeria today?”
Describing the genesis of the response plan, Dr. Onyeka recalled that on 20 November 2018, a technical committee of stakeholders developed the first draft of the action plan, in Abuja. Now, the time had come to finalize the plan in order to present it to the Honorable Minister of Agriculture. Directly addressing the group in attendance, Dr. Onyeka stressed that “all we are doing today is for the sake of our people, of our country.”
Since the Cotonou Conference that alerted public opinion to the urgency of preparing for the threat of CBSD, 10 West and Central African countries have drafted response plans to mitigate cassava viral diseases. These plans share the same framework in order to be interconnected in a regional context. They are, however, specifically tailored to match individual countries’ realities and institutional structures.
The Nigerian response plan’s vision is to create “a sustainable increase in cassava productivity in Nigeria through the development of effective management measures for the bacterial, fungal and viral diseases that affect cassava by 2023.”
The strategic objectives of the plan are to:
1. Enhance coordination and collaboration among key government institutions, and national and international research organizations in Nigeria for cassava disease monitoring and management.
2. Implement a communication strategy for effective public education, including of government officials and farmers, to prevent the introduction and potential impacts of cassava diseases in Nigeria.
3. Assess the current status of cassava viral diseases in Nigeria.
4. Reinforce the existing improved community-based cassava seed system to ensure availability and demand for clean seeds.
5. Reinforce human and infrastructural capacities for the management of existing cassava diseases and to prevent and/or respond to new disease threats such as CBSD through sustainable funding from different development partners
In order to implement these objectives, an emergency operations center will be set up “to coordinate a functional, nationwide effort aimed at managing the viral disease threats to cassava in Nigeria through:
1. Strengthening, maximizing the outputs of, scaling and sustaining all cassava mosaic disease control efforts currently ongoing in the country.
2. Establishing preparedness and response measures necessary to stop the invasion of CBSD into Nigeria and/or prevent the spread of CBSD within the cassava-growing areas of the country where exclusion fails.”
Our hope for this plan, like for all the other response plans, is that it will materialize into concrete steps towards food security.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) is at the forefront of the fight against cassava viral diseases in Nigeria. Representing FMARD at the national stakeholders’ workshop, Eng. Owolabi Mathew, Director in the Federal Department of Agriculture (FDA) and Mr. Bobby Adeniran, Deputy Director of Root and Tuber Crops, explained that FMARD is “doing a lot within its capacity to ensure food security for the country.”
Indeed, the Ministry worked closely with IITA to fight Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) in Nigeria by identifying infected areas and studying the disease to find appropriate prevention methods. It was therefore important for FMARD to attend this national workshop in order to continue this work towards food security and prevent CBSD’s introduction into Nigeria.
Mr. Adeniran pointed out that awareness campaigns and prevention programs for cassava farmers have already been launched. They have, however, been delayed in many states due to budget limitations. This excludes critical states – those sensitive to exchanges of planting material and close to borders with other West African countries.
Mr. Adeniran informed the Abuja meeting that recommendations were made following the Cotonou conference in June 2018 and approved by the Honorable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. Action will include awareness campaigns in the 2019 budget.
“Once we get approval and appropriation, the program will start based on the timeline”, said Mr. Adreniran, adding that states not covered in the initial governmental plan will be included. Mr. Adeniran also mentioned that the role of private actors such as WAVE will be to complement the government’s efforts. “We wouldn’t execute [these projects] in isolation”, he said. “We will need to bring in resource persons and partners to complement them.”
International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)
For those who are familiar with agricultural research in Nigeria, seeing NRCRI and IITA working hand in hand certainly doesn’t come as a surprise. Indeed, the IITA team from Ibadan, Nigeria was among the main stakeholders to draft the response plan to mitigate cassava viral diseases.
Dr. Lava Kumar, Head of the Germplasm Health Unit and the Virology and Molecular Diagnostics Unit at IITA represented his institution at the meeting in Abuja.
At the beginning of his talk, Dr. Kumar congratulated WAVE for doing a phenomenal job and for making sure all stakeholders have a seat at the table. Justifying the need for a response plan, Dr. Kumar said “one of the key things we do as part of our program is focusing on preparedness for the wild diseases that are not yet present in West Africa, more specifically in Nigeria, because recently, since 2010, there are more than three different disease outbreaks that have happened in East Africa. So as part of the preparedness, we develop technologies, create awareness, work with partners for capacity development, and ultimately make sure that we have a good strategy to counter these diseases in case they enter the country.”
To explain the major role played by IITA in designing the response plan, he noted that NRCRI and IITA are the centers which have cassava as a mandate and as such are aware of the risks of CBSD coming to Nigeria. IITA also has a responsibility to address major constraints such as CBSD and to enable national capacity, along with other partners, to tackle these threats. “If we don’t act, nobody else will act” Dr. Kumar emphasized.
Lastly, Dr. Kumar identified three elements as essential for ensuring an efficient plan: communication, coordination and cooperation. “We need to communicate effectively to stakeholders so that they understand the importance of the issues and can participate and allocate resources and manpower for the effective implementation of the plan”, he said.
National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI)
Prof Joseph Ukpabi, NRCRI’s Executive Director and CEO, took two days out of his busy schedule to review Nigeria’s national response plan to cassava viral diseases. Explaining the reason for prioritizing this work, he explained “it is important to us because cassava is among our crops. Nigeria as you know is presently the largest cassava producer in the world. I think that any country that has cassava can never have famine because it can withstand harsh conditions. Because of viruses whipping out cassava crops, anything that will affect cassava will affect Nigeria.”
Describing his institution’s central role in the cassava value chain, Prof. Ukpabi stated that “NRCRI has a national mandate in Nigeria to research the genetic improvement, production, storage, processing, utilization, and socioeconomics of root and tuber crops of economic importance. These crops include cassava, yam, cocoyam, potato, sweet potato, ginger, turmeric and other less well-known crops.”
Prof. Joseph added that “we also have a regional mandate for south-eastern Nigeria to help people with extension work in both national institutions and state establishments known as Agricultural Development Programs or projects (ADPs), and even NGOs. We help by providing training. We have a college of agriculture that handles middle-level manpower in agriculture and that awards national diplomas and higher national diplomas. These are the things my institute does. We have a very broad mandate.”
Finally, sharing his opinion on the WAVE program housed at NRCRI, Prof. Ukpabi said that “it is difficult to judge your own baby, but I can say that WAVE has done well with the best of the available resources.”
The Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) was represented by its Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Lateef Sanni, Professor of Food, Science and Technology, also Country Manager of the Cassava Adding Value for Africa (CAVA) a project sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Under the authority of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the FUNAAB nurtures future generations by leading agricultural and innovative research in south western Nigeria.