Cassava, a major staple and food security crop, is consumed by about 80 percent of the Ghanaian population.
About 70 percent of farmers in Ghana cultivate cassava, contributing to about 22 percent of the country’s agriculture Gross Domestic Product, an indication of its importance in the country’s food mix.
But the attack of the deadly Cassava Mosaic Disease is a worry to farmers.
The disease causes a drop in yield annually; farmers have had to sell their produce at cheaper prices to off-set the loss incurred as a result of the disease and other factors.
Fifty-six year old Olivia Frimpomaa is a cassava farmer at Onwe, near Ejisu in the Ashanti Region. She has been farming for the past 20 years.
Like many of her colleagues, she has unpleasant stories to share about the mosaic disease.
“It hurts to see your produce sold at cheap price because the disease takes the better part of it,” she said.
Olivia is worried farmers would have to lose huge sums of money because of the threat of disease. “It is difficult for us”, she lamented.
But there is good news for Olivia and other farmers as the Crops Research Institute (CRI) of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) takes steps to end their woes.
Scientists at the Institute have developed six new cassava varieties, said to be the first batch of mosaic disease-resistant hybrid.
According to them, the difficulty in identifying even flowers makes cassava breeding more cumbersome than maize whose male and female flowers can be identified easily.
“We have been able to study the technology and for the first time we’ve been able to get seeds from cassava and use the male and female to cross”, said Dr. Stella Ennin, Director of CSIR-CRI. “I am very proud of the achievements of the scientists”.
She noted that the new varieties are developed to meet emerging industry and market demands.
The existing varieties like ‘Bankyehemaa’ were very tolerant of the Cassava Mosaic Virus but the new varieties are resistant to the disease.
With these new technologies, the scientists have been able to breed, cross and hybridize the cassava.
CRI-Amansan Bankye, CRI-AGRA Bankye, CRI-Dudzi, CRI-Abrabopa, CRI-Duade Kpakpa and CRI-Lamesese can adapt to wider ecological environments.
In addition to its resistance to the deadly Cassava Mosaic Disease, they are high yielding – 45 to 60 tons per hectare, early maturing and of high dry matter.
Two of the varieties – CRI-Duade Kpakpa and CRI-Lamesese – are poundable all-year round, especially for the fufu lovers.
The breeding team was led by Dr. Joseph Menu Aduening, a root and tuber crop researcher.
Dr. Ennin says the development of new varieties is in line with the new vision of the CSIR-CRI to become a centre of excellence for agricultural research, innovation and capacity building for development.
Meanwhile, Professor Paa Nii Johnson, Chief Research Scientists and Professor in Food Science and Technology at the CSIR, is optimistic the new varieties will contribute to increased cassava production, at least by 30 per cent.
The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) supported the project with $300,000, in addition to technical expertise.