Efforts to realize sustainable cassava production and consumption in Kenya have been heightened following the launch of a plant virus diagnostics laboratory and greenhouse at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). The Ksh. 8 million facility which is supported by the Bill and Mellinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) through the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, is expected to foster national efforts in disease and insect vector mapping as well as analysis of emerging plant viruses.
The laboratory will also be used to produce high yielding, pest and disease free planting cassava materials besides teaching and research at the University.
It is estimated that over 90, 000 hectares are currently under cassava in Western, Nyanza and Coast regions with national annual production pegged at 540, 000 tonnes. The low yields averaging 10 tonnes/ hectare are attributed to incidences of disease prevalence which in certain cases have resulted in 100% failure. Two diseases, namely cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak are the most prolific.
News of fatal cassava poisoning blamed on post-harvest processing have also been reported in Kenya.
BMGF has since 2009 supported an ambitious project in eastern and southern Africa which aims to leverage on technology and modern farming practices to address these gaps and improve productivity and processing of cassava.
The Principal Investigator, Prof. Elijah Ateka said the project is working with cassava breeders to develop resistant varieties as well as train farmers and extension personnel in the country. He reported that over 50 farmer groups have been equipped with best cassava agronomic practices from strategic demonstration farms in Kilifi, Migori and Busia counties.
Speaking during the launch of the laboratory, Wednesday October 5, 2016 by the National Commission for Science and Technology (NACOSTI), Director General, Dr. Moses Rugut said the facility’s output will greatly benefit and improve livelihoods in the cassava value-chain.
‘This laboratory forms a critical foundation in routine diagnostics of plant viruses whose accurate outcomes will greatly impact sustainable production of not only cassava but also other crops in the country,’ said Rugut in a speech read by Dr. Roy Mugiira, NACOSTI’s Technical Services Director.
Eng. John Tanui who represented JKUAT Council at the function urged academics to play their rightful role in national development by producing useful knowledge that can be tapped to transform livelihoods. The future of Kenya, he added, was firmly in the hands of researchers and higher learning institutions as the country aspires to transition into a knowledge-based economy.
Vice Chancellor, Prof. Mabel Imbuga lauded BMGF for the funding which she said had equipped JKUAT to undertake applied research that will provide the much needed solutions to the many agro-based challenges in Kenya and the region.
‘This will certainly contribute to the country’s food security as well as raise economic well-being of farmer households as envisaged in Kenya Vision 2030,’ said Prof. Imbuga who was represented by Prof. Romanus Odhiambo at the function.