International forum on plant viral diseases kick-starts in Tanzania

The 12th International Plant Virus Epidemiology (IPVE) symposium is underway in Arusha, Tanzania aimed to fashion a global strategy to combat emerging and re-emerging plan virus diseases.

The five-day symposium on the theme: “Evolution, Ecology and Control of Plant Viruses,” has brought together more than 200 scientists and leading experts on plant viruses from 40 countries around the world.

Dr Lava Kumar, a Virologist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Chair of the 12th IPVE Symposium said the forum provides the platform for sharing of experiences and the latest knowledge and technologies to control plant viruses and mull over a global strategy especially with focus on Africa.

“The symposium will explore key challenges facing the Continent in tackling the key viral diseases to increase agricultural productivity, food availability, and economic development,” he said.

Dr Fidelis Myaka, Director of Research and Development at the Tanzania Ministry of Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, said the government is supportive of efforts aimed at finding solutions to control plant viruses in the country to improve food security and especially research, which provides knowledge and information to policymakers to champion decision making.

He pointed out the examples of the Cassava Brown Streak Disease and Cassava Mosaic Disease, which are spreading to new areas in Eastern Africa, ravaging the crop and affecting food security.

Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General of IITA noted that there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed including viral diseases of staple crops such as cassava, banana, and maize using advances in science.

“Cassava is going to be the crop of the future for Africa,” he said adding that it is not just a food security crop but holds immense potential as an income earner as it is a source of industrial raw material such as glucose and starch.

He said: “Cassava production is picking up in Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Countries are changing from overreliance on maize. However, it faces many challenges including the two viral diseases that are a headache to our farmers and policymakers. “We need science to solve these problems.”

Dr Sanginga also emphasized the need for investment in building the capacity of young researchers for the future.

He said the symposium provided a great opportunity for young scientists and students to learn and interact with experienced researchers from all over the world.

Dr Joseph Nduguru from the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute said researchers of plant diseases have a lot of challenges ahead of them as diseases are spreading.

Plant viruses are among the major factors that affect productivity and cause vast economic losses to staple crops in Africa and other developing regions across the tropics.

Furthermore, new viruses, new strains of existing viruses, along with changing contexts due to agricultural intensification and climate change are creating new challenges and demanding even greater efforts to find novel, effective ways to tackle virus disease problems. GNA

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