We were in the process of publishing our latest issue of The WAVE when the COVID-19 wave hit us. At first, it seemed way too far to be worrisome. Then the numbers started going up. Then the meters went wild and we decided to suspend the surveys our teams were conducting to assess cassava fields and generate CMD and CBSD incidence and severity maps for all WAVE countries.
Our respective governments decided to take measures to bend the curve and we were all confined at home, away from our laboratories and the fields. We were clinging to our TV and computer screens, trying to make some sense of it all and listening to the media say how the whole world really wasn’t ready for the disease, how unprepared we were for something that could have been predicted.
COVID-19 made us think hard here at WAVE and made us look for the silver linings!
In regard to human health the situation made us reflect on the Ebola virus disease (EVD) which first appeared in the 1970s in two simultaneous outbreaks in South Sudan and DRC. No real control and surveillance measures were in place when the disease surprised the world again during the 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa, the largest one since the virus was first discovered (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ebola-virus-disease).
In respect to plant health, we thought about the East African Cassava Mosaic-Uganda (EACMD-Ug) disease epidemic in the 1990s that affected no less than nine countries in East and Central Africa, resulting in an estimated annual economic loss of USD 1.9 billion and causing a famine that claimed the lives of thousands of people.
Thanks to the collaboration between WAVE, cassava stakeholders and governments during the program’s first phase, national response plans to cassava viral diseases were drafted in 10 central and west African countries. The challenge now lies in turning these plans into reality.
The COVID-19 epidemic made us further reflect on the necessity for readiness to respond to the major threats we are facing in Africa, notably food insecurity.
These last weeks we have found solace in knowing that WAVE’s Phase 2 is all about enhancing preparedness to manage viral root and tuber crop diseases in West and Central Africa. Preparedness at WAVE means that we are training African farmers and extension agents on disease symptoms recognition and best farming practices. It means we are working on better understanding the viral diseases that affect productivity and identifying disease resistant varieties. It means we are working with governments and other stakeholders to implement already-drafted country response plans and set up emergency operation centres to diseases such as the cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). Probably more importantly, we are committed to training African scientists, without whom no fight for food security can be won.
In this latest issue of The WAVE, we shed more light on the efforts the program is making towards capacity building.
We hope you and your loved ones are well and safe during these special times!
1. After a successful phase 1, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the Department for International Development (DFID) of UK granted the WAVE Program a second phase to pursue its research and development activities on root and tuber crops viral diseases. As WAVE Côte d’Ivoire host institution, what does this vote of confidence represent for UFHB?
Research and development fully reflect the vision of the Félix Houphouët-Boigny University and represents one of our core missions: service to the community. The WAVE program is a concrete demonstration of this mission as it impacts the lives of African farmers by fighting root and tuber crops viral diseases for sustainable food security in Africa. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development of UK's renewed support to the WAVE program is the result of successful work and rigorous human, material and financial management. This vote of confidence is a sign that we are on the right path and invites us to meet the greater challenges.
2. You have always supported WAVE’s fight against root and tuber crops viral diseases. Why is it so important for you to support WAVE?
My support to the WAVE program, as well as to all UFHB's research units, is based on two concerns: the first is the eradication of root and tuber crops viral diseases, particularly those affecting cassava production, whose semolina is widely consumed in Côte d'Ivoire and West Africa. The second concern is food identity. It is an inclusive and participatory concept in the general culture of a community. "If you tell me what you eat, I will tell you who you are" (laughs).
3. During WAVE phase 2, how does UFHB plan to collaborate with the program to ensure sustainable food security in Côte d'Ivoire and Africa?
Food security is vital and appropriate measures must be taken to guarantee it. The WAVE program contributes to this paramount requirement and UFHB will do its utmost to deliver impact. Our availability and commitment will remain with the WAVE program to ensure sustainable food security in Côte d'Ivoire and Africa.
4. Since 1958, UFHB, African University of Excellence, has been nurturing the intellectual elite of the sub-region; and the WAVE program, with the support of UFHB, has made the training of qualified African scientists, one of its major priorities. In your opinion, what is the scope of such commitment?
Any significant and sustainable research activity, such as the one carried out by the WAVE program, is sustained through training. This is what Philippe Bloch says: “Investing in training means bringing together, in the present but also in the future, a concern for people and a concern for results”. Training qualified scientists is a driver for Africa’s development. Whoever trains in scientific righteousness sows the good seed.
5. The response plans against cassava viral diseases initiated by WAVE and adopted by 10 governments of West and Central Africa as well as WAVE phase 2 launching ceremony demonstrated the power of togetherness to ensure sustainable food security in Africa. What message would you like to address to your fellow presidents of African universities and research institutions hosting the WAVE program?
Food security is a major priority for the “Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Superieur” (CAMES), which established the Food and Nutritional Security Research Thematic Program (PTR-SAN). I strongly encourage the WAVE program host institutions to support WAVE’s activities and training of local researchers. Sustainable food security is an equation that can be solved through political will and scientific research. Together, let’s contribute to food security by supporting WAVE in its fight against root and tuber crops viral diseases.
1. What is UFHB's policy in terms of support for research projects like WAVE?
UFHB, in its 2014 establishment project, intended to make our institution an efficient and innovative university open to the socio-economic world. To this end, UFHB established in Bingerville, a Scientific and Innovation Pole (PSI), to promote the transfer of university knowledge to industries. And for me, a project like WAVE has its place there like many other projects, as it contributes to food security in Africa by tackling cassava viral diseases.
2. As UFHB’ Vice-President in charge of Research and Technological Innovation, how do you evaluate scientific research and innovation in your institution and what are the challenges to be addressed?
Research is really dynamic at UFHB despite the limited financial resources. As UFHB’s Vice President in charge of Research and Technology, I am proud to mention the several projects carried out by UFHB’s researchers at the PSI which serves the community. Research is certainly under-funded in Africa, but I am happy to notice that, with small means, great projects are being implemented at UFHB. In addition to WAVE, several other projects are implemented at the PSI, such as:
- The bio-pesticide pilot unit (the NECO which won the Ivorian Research Prize in 2014 and the prize for the best valorization of research and innovation in 2015);
- The pilot unit for the production of phytopharmaceuticals;
- The Centre of Excellence of Africa which trains master's degree and PhD students in the fight against climate change as well as the control of biodiversity and sustainable agriculture;
- The production unit of Proralys 50 which is an environmental disinfectant.
All these research programs reflect that research is a reality at UFHB.
Not everything is rosy, and we must recognise that several challenges such as funding remain unaddressed. However, I can say that there is room for hope with the government's competitive funds like the 5 billion FCFA Fund for Science, Technology and Innovation (FONSTI) and the 1 billion FCFA fund for research against COVID19.
3. Amidst the on-going health crisis due to coronavirus disease (COVID19), what role do scientific research and innovation play in the fight against the virus?
The COVID-19 outbreak highlighted UFHB researchers’ expertise. Several teams proposed innovative solutions to stop the coronavirus spread, such as:
- A bactericidal, fungicidal and virucidal hydro-alcoholic gel, to disinfect hands, everyday objects (watches, bracelets, cell phones...) and surfaces;
- Proralys 50, a plant-based environmental disinfectant. It can be used to disinfect public areas such as markets, worship places, amphitheaters, classrooms...;
- the translation into 12 national languages and 03 migration languages (Moré, Yoruba and Arabic) of messages from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Security for the respect of barrier measures;
- Security distance, a device controlling the entrances and exits to limit the number of people to be received in a closed environment (bus, classroom, bank, amphitheater...).
4. UFHB’s President and yourself, have always supported the WAVE program in its research and development activities. In your opinion, what is the impact of WAVE activities on scientific research and innovation in Côte d'Ivoire as well as in West and Central Africa?
WAVE's impact is clearly positive in terms of food security. Firstly, from 2014 to 2017 (WAVE phase 1), WAVE contributed to a better understanding of cassava viral diseases by studying the virus strains and mode of transmission in 6 West African countries and 1 Central African country. In addition, to respond to these threats, the WAVE program initiated in these countries a surveillance and monitoring system for African cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and developed national response plans.
In the light of a successful Phase 1, we witnessed in 2019 the launching ceremony of WAVE Phase 2 with the expansion of the program to 3 other African countries. I think that this expansion demonstrates WAVE’s positive impact on food security in Africa.
5. The WAVE program with the support of UFHB and the donors has invested in the training of qualified African scientists. In your opinion, what is the impact of such investment on scientific research and innovation in Côte d'Ivoire and Africa in general?
I think that the impact of such investment can be evaluated on two levels:
- Firstly, it allows us to train a highly qualified human resource, able to innovate for food security;
- On the other hand, this kind of investment facilitates the development of meaningful research projects and helps to address challenges faced by the community, particularly in the fight against hunger.
6. WAVE is more than ever engaged in a regional fight against root and tuber crops viral diseases for sustainable food security in Africa. What message would you like to address to the scientists, researchers and partners of the program?
I would like to encourage and congratulate the WAVE team led by Prof. Pita. Indeed, all the work carried out by WAVE definitely contributes to our University’s visibility and prestige in Africa and in the world.
Concerning the program’s partners, I would like to thank them and express the gratitude of UFHB’s President, Professor Abou KARAMOKO and our professors and researchers, for their priceless contribution to WAVE’s success. We are well aware that we have highly qualified researchers and with adequate financial resources, they are capable of developing meaningful, innovative and competitive research.
1. Can you briefly introduce yourself and mention your academic and professional background?
My name is Linda Abrokwah Appianimaa. I am 36 years old. I schooled at the University of Cape Coast, (UCC) for my BSc degree in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. I had my master’s degree in Crop Protection (Plant Virology Option) from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, (KNUST) Kumasi, Ghana. I have been working at the CSIR-Crops Research Institute in Kumasi, Ghana for the past 10 years. Currently, I am a Principal Technologist and work at both the Plant Virology and the Molecular Biology labs of the Institute.
My academic background is Molecular Biology and Biotechnology; as well as Plant Virology. For my professional background, I would say I’m a Molecular Virologist.
2. How long have you been at WAVE, what position do you hold and what does your job consist of?
I have been with WAVE in Ghana since its inception and have worked in the lab as supporting scientist. I must also emphasise that WAVE gave me financial support for my MSc. thesis research.
3. Recently, you joined the Ghanaian research team against COVID-19. What was your role in that team and how has your work at WAVE prepared you for that role?
Yes, I joined the Ghanaian team against COVID-19 as a volunteer scientist offering technical support which they needed seriously. There were only two testing labs for the COVID-19 at the time I volunteered. Now the number of testing centres has increased to 6 or 7 more.
The lab I joined; Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research (KCCR) is based at the Campus of the KNUST, Kumasi and was responsible for testing samples from the whole of Central and Northern parts of Ghana, consisting of 8 out of the 16 regions. They were testing samples collected from suspected persons infected with the COVID-19 and those collected through contact tracing of persons who have come into contact with the infected persons as well as what they call “community screening” of some designated areas from these regions.
As at the time I joined the lab in April 2020, they had backlog of about 20,000 samples to work on with a daily flow-in of about 1500 samples. By the time I left there in June 2020 we had cleared all the backlog. I was responsible for the RNA extraction after the “viral samples” have been inactivated as well as qPCR analysis after the extraction; something WAVE exposed me to because of my training for my master’s degree.
My work ends after I had submitted the qPCR results with interpretation to the data team for reconciliation. I was able to do this diligently and with ease because of the training I had for my master’s degree which I had the opportunity to do RNA extraction of Sweet potato viruses and afterwards, RT-PCR analysis. WAVE prepared me well for this task and with the “ONE-HEALTH” Slogan ringing at the back of my mind, I was able to apply my skills even in the human context.
4. What are your objectives after your work in this research team?
I hope to pursue my PhD degree in Plant Virology so that I would have more insight and better appreciation of Plant Viruses and how they can be managed to ensure sustainable food security. I hope to work on “developing Infectious Clones for ACMV and CBSV” to facilitate breeding for ACMV and CBSD resistant cassava varieties.
My participation in the COVID-19 fight has given me more motivation to pursue this topic on infectious clones because I believe we can transfer the same technology for the development of a vaccine for COVID-19 in the nearest future.
Dr. Ezechiel Bionimian TIBIRI
Dr. Ezechiel Tibiri is part of the WAVE Burkina Faso team, led by Dr. Fidele Tiendrebeogo. He defended successfully his PhD thesis on December 21, 2019 and received the highest distinction of Université Joseph Ki-Zerbo. His thesis research focused on sweet potato viruses in Burkina Faso: Molecular characterisation, epidemiology and impact assessment on yield.
Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) is the 7th most important food crop in the world and the 3rd in Africa. It is the most important root and tuber crop in Burkina Faso, followed by cassava and yam. However, its production in Burkina Faso as well as in sub-Saharan Africa is affected by viral diseases caused by several viruses, including Sweet potato feathery mottle virus (SPFMV), Sweet potato chlorotic stunt virus (SPCSV) and Sweet potato leaf curl virus (SPLCV).
Dr. Tibiri’s thesis focused on molecular, biological characterisation and virus diseases impact assessment on sweet potato yield in Burkina Faso. Country-wide survey was performed and more than 600 symptomatic and asymptomatic sweet potato samples and four symptomatic weed species plant samples in Hauts bassins, Centre and Centre-South regions were harvested and analysed at the Institut National de l’Environnement et de Recherche Agricoles (INERA), WAVE host institution in Burkina Faso.
Dr. Tibiri's research on sweet potato viral diseases are the first one in Burkina Faso. They revealed the presence of sweet potato economically damaging viruses. They also constitute an important contribution to research on root and tuber crops viral diseases and highlight the need for epidemiological monitoring and breeding programs focused on virus-resistant varieties.
Dr. Tibiri carried out his thesis work entirely within WAVE in Burkina Faso, where he had access to state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and benefited from WAVE scientists’ expertise. At the end of his research work, Dr. Tibiri published 3 scientific articles in renowned international journals such as Plant Pathology, Acta Scientific Microbiology and Open Agriculture.
During his thesis, Dr Tibiri also worked on bioinformatics and molecular data analysis which revealed the need to use metagenomic approaches to better understand sweet potato viruses. Dr. Tibiri has therefore been hired by the WAVE program for a Post-doc to share his expertise and deepen these innovative approaches. He will assist the WAVE team and students in bioinformatics analysis. He is now one of the outstanding researchers working relentlessly to achieve sustainable food security in Africa.
Dr. Jerome Anani HOUNGUE
1. Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Anani Jérôme HOUNGUE. I am a graduate from University of Abomey-Calavi (Benin) where I defended my PhD thesis in February 2020, in Biotechnology and Plant Virology.
2. When did you start your training at WAVE and what is your research topic?
I started my PhD research activities at WAVE in 2015. My research activities focused on cassava mosaic viruses’ epidemiology and the contribution of plant biotechnology in their management in Benin. These activities were supervised by Professor Corneille AHANHANZO, WAVE Benin Country Director, Professor of “Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Superieur” (CAMES) Universities, as well as Director of the central laboratory of plant biotechnology and plant breeding of Université Abomey-Calavi.
3. Can you briefly summarise your thesis work?
The importance of cassava, especially in developing countries, is well known. However, the crop is affected by viral diseases such as cassava mosaic (CMD), caused by Begomoviruses, whose severe species cause yield losses of up to 100% in highly sensitive varieties. Thus, we have studied the evolution of the disease over the last five years and developed sustainable strategies to control the CMD and ensure food security in Benin.
To this end, we surveyed many cassava fields throughout the country and characterized the Begomoviruses affecting cassava cultivation in Benin using molecular tools. The results demonstrated a high incidence of cassava mosaic disease and the presence of the East African Cassava Mosaic-Uganda (EACMD-Ug) more in Nikki (Borgou department).
We also assessed producers' knowledge on plant diseases to design appropriate control measures. In addition, we identified cultivars resistant to cassava mosaic disease among those preferred by farmers, as one of the sustainable control measures against the disease. Sanitation protocols have also been established by in-vitro meristems culture of cultivars sensitive to CMD but with high productive value.
Finally, we analysed the influence of these Begomoviruses on the nutritional quality of infected plant roots, to review the parameters to be considered in our future breeding work. All these aspects have been addressed in detail in the thesis document, which is in itself a major tool in the fight against CMD.
4. How did your training at WAVE enable you to successfully complete your thesis work?
I will say that my training at WAVE was complete. I had access to financial and scientific resources as well as moral support to achieve my thesis work and with the leadership of my thesis supervisor.
I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank my thesis supervisor, Professor Corneille AHANHANZO. To the Lord, all honor. It is with his support that I joined the WAVE program after my master’s degree, which he also supervised.
I also thank the Executive Director of the WAVE Program, Prof. Justin PITA for his inspiring vision of Africa’s development through research and also the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and DFID for their continued support.
5. What was the impact of your training at WAVE on your professional and personal skills?
I will simply say that "a well-trained child is a future you earn". I am personally satisfied with my training and I am now fit for a career in research. At WAVE, I have acquired solid scientific and project writing skills. Today, I can successfully conduct research work, under pressure in a team or build strong partnerships for a project implementation.
6. How do you see the future after your thesis defense?
I would like to join a research institution for a post-doc or an assistant position. I know it is not easy but the work I have done at WAVE demonstrates my potential. I would also like to work with the WAVE program for its Phase 2 activities in Benin.