With Improved Varieties, Rwanda is Up-scaling its Cassava Production

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An IITA farm officer, Anetor Omonuwa, holds cassava variety undergoing field testing

Currently, Rwanda is cultivating about 200,000 hectares of cassava country-wide and an approximate average yield of 14.5 t/ha.

The country, according to its Agriculture Minister, Jean Chrisostome Ngabitsinze, is hoping to achieve increased production from 14.5 t/ha to between 30 and 40 t/ha. New varieties are promising since they are reported to be yielding between 35 and 45 t/ha.

In 2007, the government of Rwanda started the crop intensification programme, with cassava among the prioritised crops.

However, it has been facing many challenges, including two deadly diseases: CMD (locally known as Ububembe) and CBSD (locally known as Kabole), which have disrupted cassava production.

To address this, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) partnered with Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) to develop improved cassava varieties resistant to both diseases.

IITA has, through two collaborative projects, the IFAD-funded CBSD Control project and the Dutch government-funded Cassava Agribusiness Seed Systems, supported the introduction and adaptive testing of the most promising varieties and building capacities of the local research personnel and infrastructure.

In collaboration with RAB, an association of farmers in Rwanda, the Ingabo Syndicate, and their partners, held Cassava Week 2020 recently.

Ngabitsinze, officially kicked off the event at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.

The meeting attracted different stakeholders from research, government departments, development partners, local leadership, private sector food processors and seed multipliers, and farmers.

The week showcased the importance of cassava in the country, looking at the progress made in cassava research and development plan, and laying common strategies for the future.

Farmers named new cassava varieties as part of the opening activities at the three-day event.  The farmers had tested the varieties in their farms and tasted different recipes from them in their homes.

Chairperson of Ingabo Syndicate, Mrs Césarie Kantarama, that hosted the naming ceremony, said, “this naming event is very important for Rwandan cassava farmers. Like the way the government of Rwanda allows Rwandans and some influential international people to name baby gorillas, the named varieties are our ‘baby gorillas’ as cassava farmers.”

She said this, referring to the new varieties’ anticipated impact on the farmers and Rwanda’s food and income security as a country.

Farmers named the new varieties according to their efficiency, production, and growth period. The names of the six varieties are Biseruka, Tegereza, Gikungu, Buryohe, Nsizebashonje, and Tebuka, respectively meaning, stand tall, just wait, get rich, taste sweet, can’t be hungry, and mature early.

Vedaste Bapfakurera, who named the Buryohe (taste sweet) variety, said: “I tested this new variety and confirm that it is very high yielding within 12 months, has tasty boiled roots, leafy vegetables (isombe), and ubugali (paste mingled from cassava flour).”

“Our main purpose as RAB is to develop and avail improved varieties to farmers that are resistant to pests and diseases, mainly cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and cassava mosaic disease (CMD). We have initiated this activity of naming the new varieties with Kinyarwanda names, so that farmers can easily identify and use them”, said Dr Athanase Nduwumuremyi, Head of the cassava programme at RAB.

The new varieties include two developed by IITA, with some of the other four national program-bred varieties having parental origins from IITA materials introduced in the past.

“We are glad that IITA has contributed to this noble cause, to develop new, improved cassava varieties that are liked by farmers and tolerant to diseases that have in the recent past affected cassava production in Rwanda. Together with the cassava program at RAB, all these named varieties have gone through testing stages at research and farmers level to confirm that they are good and acceptable”, IITA Cassava Breeder, Silver Tumwegamire, highlights.

Tumwegamire, a Ugandan citizen, is a post-doctoral fellow for the Cassava Varieties and Clean Seed to Combat CBSD and CMD project (5CP). He is based in IITA-Tanzania, Dar es Salam. He holds a PhD in Crop Science – Breeding, a master’s degree in Crop Science – Breeding, and a bachelor’s degree in Agriculture (crop science option), all completed at Makerere University in Uganda.

He joined IITA from a sister CGIAR center, CIP (International Potato Center) where he worked for 11 years on sweet potato breeding programmes for sub-Saharan Africa.

Previously, he also worked, for 4 years, with CARE International in Uganda under a project to protect one of the few remaining world natural habitats (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest) for mountain gorillas through community-based agricultural interventions. He also had a short-term engagement with Uganda’s national bean breeding programme.

Two other events, the launch of E-Cassava Enterprise (initiative with SPARK under IITA led CASS project) and awarding best cassava farmers, also took place during the Cassava Week.

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