The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has announced grants totaling $11.9 million to support its efforts to develop and distribute a virus-resistant strain of cassava to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than two hundred million people rely on the staple crop for 25 percent of their caloric intake.
Support for Phase II of the Virus-Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) initiative — which is designed to develop and deliver farmer-preferred cassava varieties enhanced to resist serious plant viruses that are greatly reducing crop yield and increasing the threat of poverty and famine — includes $5.6 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $5.4 million from the Monsanto Fund, and $860,000 from the Howard Buffett Foundation. The project aims to create two products that will incorporate resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD), viruses that devastate yields and quality, into the naturally drought-resistant crop.
Through collaboration with the National Crops Resources Research Institute in Uganda and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, the Danforth Center hopes to build on advances made during Phase I of the project. The partners will make the enhanced cultivars available to farmers with no royalty fees, in the same way that traditional cassava is currently offered.
"We are grateful for the support of our many partners for this important project," said Dr. Claude Fauquet, Danforth's lead investigator for the VIRCA project. "I have witnessed the devastation caused by CMD and CBSD, wiping out entire harvests, leaving many people on the verge of starvation. Our team is confident that the cassava we develop will improve the lives of millions of people, allowing them to not only grow adequate food, but also to increase productivity so they might have enough money left over to educate their children and afford good medical care for malaria and other diseases they face."