Second Strategic Meeting of GCP21

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Summary of the workshop

Communication team

List of participants

Program and ppts

Outcomes of the workshop

Strategic Meeting of The Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century - Bellagio, Italy, May 6 – 10, 2013


Dr. Claude M. Fauquet
Director GCP21
CIAT, Apdo. Aereo 6713
Cali, Colombia
Cell: 314-477-3973
Web: h
Dr. Joe Tohme
Director, Agrobiodiversity Research
CIAT, Apdo. Aereo 6713
Cali, Colombia
Tel: 1 (650) 833-6625-3352
Dr. James Legg
Plant Virologist/Vector Entomologist
IITA-Tanzania, PO Box 34441,
Dar Es Salam, Tanzania
Tel: +255 222 700092

Conference Summary: Cassava mosaic disease (CMD) is present in all cassava growing African countries. CMD is caused by at least 8 different geminiviruses, transmitted by whiteflies and by cuttings from infected plants. At least 45Mt of cassava are lost each year to CMD. A pandemic caused by a new recombinant geminivirus exploded in Uganda in the 90s and for years completely suppressed the cassava production in the region. Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), first described in 1935, re-appeared in East Africa in 2003, causing a severe epidemic in the whole region, to the point where this disease is now the worst constraint for cassava in East Africa. CBSD is caused by two species of ipomoviruses, also transmitted by whiteflies and by cuttings. CBSD is dramatic because it does not impact the growth of the infected plants but completely compromises the harvest, as all the roots are necrotic. CBSD is a threat for millions of farmers. CMD and CBSD are considered the two worst constraints for cassava in Africa. GCP21, a recognized global organization within the cassava community, declares a war on cassava viruses in Africa. GCP21 will draw a comprehensive plan to halt these constraints and to prevent CBSD from reaching West Africa, the largest cassava region in Africa. This plan will be developed through a conference held at Bellagio in 2013. The outcome of this conference will be a detailed plan established by cassava experts in virology, entomology, breeding, biotechnology and seed systems, with the participation of donors and developers.

Proposal: The proposal is to gather in Bellagio a number of cassava experts knowledgeable, who have experience to share with the group, to put in place a detailed plan to efficiently control cassava viruses on a large scale in Africa. This has never before been attempted.

Since the 1930s, when the first British research group based in East Africa developed a program of cassava selection for virus control, the main concept has been to produce cassava cultivars that would be resistant to one or more viral diseases. This sole approach was believed to be able to control viruses and eventually eradicate them from the continent. Although these scientists were successful in generating resistance against CMD and CBSD, their efforts remained insufficient to fully control cassava viruses.

In the 70s, IITA in Nigeria started a new cassava selection program, aiming again at producing CMD resistant cassava cultivars. Tough they were successful in producing CMD resistant cultivars, their action still did not translate in the eradication of cassava viruses in Africa. Part of the problem is that virus resistance is not necessarily the criteria of choice for cassava farmers.

The situation worsened in the 90s in Uganda, when a CMD pandemic emerged, gradually invading the whole East African region, then moved Westward to reach the Congo basin. It was caused by an unusually large population of whiteflies, the natural vector of the disease, being associated to the presence of two CMD viruses. The two viruses involved had a synergistic detrimental effect on cassava. The pandemic was finally stopped with the use of cassava cultivars selected by IITA in Nigeria. Around 2003, the CBSD pandemic started along the coasts of East Africa. It rapidly invaded the highlands, and is present almost everywhere in the region today. Again, the presence of very large populations of whiteflies with the simultaneous presence of two viruses causing CBSD is considered responsible for the outbreak. As only tolerant cultivars are currently available, the pandemic threatens to continue its course to West Africa.

In the 1930s and 40s, there was a serious successful attempt in Uganda to eradicate CMD from cassava fields, through a rigorous regime of phytosanitation (replacing diseased plants with disease-free plants). Although this plan was successful, there has never been any serious attempt to eradicate cassava viruses on a large scale, such as has been done for other crops like potato as far back as 1945, sweet potato in China in the 80s, and many flowers in the world in the last four decades. In Africa, breeding for virus resistance has been considered as the sole method to curb viruses. This was justified because virus resistance can be very effective, because there was poor knowledge about all other aspects involved in a viral epidemy and also because it is simple to apply. This failure to yet control cassava viruses after a century of R&D, the growing amount of information available, and the fear that climate change will worsen the situation, all call for a comprehensive plan to reach that goal. This is what GCP21 wants to achieve at Bellagio in 2013.

Instead of betting on genetic virus resistance alone, the goal here is to use all technologies on a large scale to stop the progress of viruses and ultimately to eradicate them. This approach has been successful in 1945 on potatoes in Europe, where they remain practically virus-free nowadays. It took a concerted effort between scientists, farmers, administrators, policy makers and politicians to reach less than 5% infected potatoes in any potato field in 6 European countries. This still remains the case today.

The group gathered in Bellagio by GCP21 will count experts who monitor viral diseases in Africa, cassava virologists, whitefly entomologists, breeders for virus resistance in cassava, specialists who engineer virus resistant plants, experts in climate change, experts in seed systems, as well as socio-economists knowledgeable about cassava.

We may be missing other categories of experts such as farmers, administrators and policy makers. Because this is the first attempt to establish such a comprehensive plan, we believe that we should deal with science first, to ensure that all aspects are covered and developed. In addition, a number of representatives from donor agencies and large organizations involved in agricultural development in Africa will be present, who will be exposed to this plan and who could take action.

After a number of experts provide an overview of the situation regarding the control of viruses in Africa for each discipline involved, a brainstorming session will follow, with the contribution of each and all. In the end, when ideas are clearer, the group will split in sub-groups to write the different parts of the plan, to achieve a general draft document before leaving Bellagio.

The first expectation from the conference is to form a solid group of people committed to the task, the second one is to agree on a large plan to best control cassava viruses in Africa. Finally, we expect to write down the different elements of the plan, to be in possession of a document to be published and used later on.

The value of this conference will be several folds:

  • To exchange knowledge between different disciplines, for example to get breeders more familiarized with the exact nature of cassava viruses. Too often breeders work in their field without the input of virologists, and vice versa.
  • To have the major players in the field agree on a concerted effort to decrease the impact of cassava viruses as a whole, to ultimately eradicate viruses from the crop.
  • To adopt a common view for a better virus control and to work in concert towards the elimination of cassava viruses in Africa.

The longer-term outcomes/impacts expected are:

  • Currently, solutions in Africa are brought separately. For example, during the Uganda pandemic in the 90s, many local landraces were lost simply because there was no plan in place to preserve them.
  • The same situation could happen again with the current CBSD outbreak. If a plan were in place, these landraces would be entered in an in vitro and a screenhouse collection. They could then be conserved and used for future research projects.
  • In the long term, the elimination of viruses from cassava in Africa would be a huge gain of over 50M tons. It would completely transform the productivity of cassava on the continent and the economy of many countries. It is a huge task to undertake, with potential huge gains. Such huge tasks are usually endorsed by WHO for human diseases, with a very positive outcome in some cases. We propose to do the same for cassava, the most important food crop in Africa.

The average yield of cassava in Africa is 10t/Ha, while it is 17t/Ha in Asia. Above 15 t/Ha, a family has too much food for their own consumption. They can either plant less cassava or transform the excess into more valuable products. Viruses in Africa are the worst limitation to cassava productivity. Removing those viruses would have an immediate effect on cassava productivity, even before other constraints, like soil fertility, could have any impact. Furthermore, CBSD prevents farmers from growing cassava, depriving them of the best food security crop at their disposal, especially when drought is increasing, cassava being drought resistant. Decreasing the impact of cassava viruses in Africa would directly benefit poor farmers and the local economy.

Decreasing the impact of cassava viruses in Africa would have further effects. For instance, the canopy of healthy plants would be much larger earlier on, decreasing the burden of weeding for women and children. The increase in productivity would allow the development of a small local economy generating jobs, increasing cash flow for farmers. The increase cash flow for farmers could enable them to have more input into cassava and other crops, thus further improving their productivity. Increase in productivity would allow farmers to diversify their plantations for fruits and vegetables, thereby improving the health of poor populations. Excess in cassava yield could boost animal production, especially poultry and fish, improving diet and income for poor families.

This approach is not an entirely new concept. It has been done for several European crops and flowers, though never yet for cassava in Africa. Some reasons are that Africa is huge, that it is not easy to work on the continent, and also that nobody had the necessary confidence to make such a proposal so far. GCP21, with the support of the world cassava community, can display this confidence and trust that progress on this front is possible. We are aware of the immensity of the task ahead of us, but this will not deter us from going forward. We believe that only bold vision will enable breakthroughs in the developing world. Also, we now have the trust of major donors such as BMGF, who in turn can rally even more donors worldwide, to access enough resources and power to achieve success. We are determined to give it a try at Bellagio in 2013!

Communication Plan: We are planning on some level of communication being done before, during and after the Bellagio meeting. Therefore a communication team (ComTeam) has been assembled to report about the meeting and to interact with journalists.

The team is composed of:

Palmer, Neil (CIAT) - Team leader Durroux, Veronique (CIP-RTB) Oliver, Jeffrey (IITA)
Hussain, Sawat (WB-Africa) Wilkerson, Charmaine (FAO-OCP) Mulinge, Judith (TCEO)
Stalsett, Beate (IFAD) Leavett, Ruth (NRI) Rivera, John (CRS)
Wade, Magatte WADE (AfDB) Castle, Paul (SFSA)  

List of Participants

GCP21 Claude Fauquet - GCP21 - Virologist - Organizer Joe Tohme - CIAT - biotechno - Organizer
CRP-RTB Graham Thiele - CIP - Economist  
Donor Representatives Jim Lorenzen - BMGF - Breeder Ian Barker - SFSA - Virologist
  Jonathan Wadsworth - WB - Agronomist Larry Beach - USAID - Biotechno
  Warid Elkhoury - IFAD - Extension Dougou Keita - AfDB
  Matthew McMahon - WB - Economist  
Virologists Stephan Winter - DSMZ - Virologist Lava Kumar - IITA - Virologist
  Joseph Ndunguru - MARI - Virologist Doug Miano - Nairobi U. - Virologist
  Mike Thresh - NRI - Epidemiologist Willmer Cuellar - CIAT - Virologist
Entomologists James Legg - IITA - Entomologist Peter Sseruwagi - MARI - Entomologist
  Gowda Maruthi - NRI - Entomologist Dan Gerling - Tel Aviv U. - Entomologist
Breeders Peter Kulakow - IITA - Breeder Hernan Ceballos - CIAT - Breeder
  Clair Hershey - CIAT - Breeder Kiddo Mtunda - IRA - Breeder
  Emmanuel Okogbenin - NRCRI - Breeder  
Seed system specialists Steve Walsh - CRS - Seed system Jan Helsen - FAO - Seed system
  Phemba Pezo - DRC - Seed system Pheneas Ntawuruhunga - IITA - Seed system
Socio-economist John Lynam - Consultant - Socio-economist  
Climate change expert Andy Jarvis - CIAT - Climate expert  
Cassava consultant Eugene Terry - Consultant - Cassava expert  

Program of the meeting

Sunday May 5   Gathering of the attendees in Milan at the Crowne Malpensa Hotel
  7:30 pm Group dinner at the hotel
Monday May 6 7:00 am Breakfast
  8:30 am Transportation to Bellagio Center
  10:30 am Settling in the rooms at Bellagio Center
  12:00 pm Presentation of the meeting; goals and objectives
    Claude Fauquet - PDF
Joe Tohme - PDF
Graham Thiele - PDF
David MacMahon - PDF
  1:00 pm Lunch
  2:00 pm Breeding:
Hernan Ceballos - PDF
Clair Hershey - PDF
Edouard Kandju - PDF
Peter Kulakow - PDF
Doug Miano - PDF
Emmanuel Okogbenin - PDF
Claude Fauquet - PDF
James Legg - PDF
Maruthi Gowda - PDF
Wilmer Cuellar - PDF
  7:00 pm Cocktail & Dinner Sfondrata
  8:30 pm Drinks & Open discussion on the eradication of viruses
Tuesday May 7 8:00 am Breakfast
  9:00 am Whiteflies:
Dan Gerling - PDF
James Legg - PDF
Maruthi Gowda - PDF
    Seed System:
Steve Walsh - PDF
Jan Helsen - PDF
Kiddo Mtunda - PDF
Pheneas Ntawuruhunga - PDF
    Climate change:
Andy Jarvis - PDF
    Donor prospective:
Jim Lorrenzen - PDF
1:00 pm Lunch Sfondrata
  2:00 pm Brainstorming in breakout groups
  7:00 pm Cocktail & Dinner Sfondrata
  8:30 pm Drinks & Open discussion on the possible strategies
Wednesday May 8 8:00 am Breakfast
  9:00 am Reports of the breakout groups and discussion
  1:00 pm Lunch Sfondrata
  2:00 pm Brainstorming in breakout groups second setting
  7:00 pm Cocktail & Dinner with the Residents
Thursday May 9 8:00 am Breakfast
  9:00 am Reports of the breakout groups and discussion
  1:00 pm Lunch Sfondrata
  2:00 pm Plan writing in breakout groups
  7:00 pm Cocktail & Dinner Sfondrata
  8:30 pm Free evening in Bellagio village
Friday May 10 8:00 am Breakfast
  9:00 am Reports of the breakout groups and discussion
  10:30 am Presentation of the PR
  11:00 am Close of the meeting
  11:30 am Departure from the Bellagio Center

Outcomes of the Meeting:

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