Pandemic Threatens African Staple Crop
The New York Times reports that Africa is currently experiencing a pandemic of a mutated virus affecting the cassava crop. Cassava is Africa’s main staple crop, and is right behind wheat and rice as the number one staple crop in the world.
That newcomer, brown streak, is now ravaging cassava crops in a great swath around Lake Victoria, threatening millions of East Africans who grow the tuber as their staple food.
Although it has been seen on coastal farms for 70 years, a mutant version emerged in Africa’s interior in 2004, “and there has been explosive, pandemic-style spread since then,” said Claude M. Fauquet, director of cassava research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. “The speed is just unprecedented, and the farmers are really desperate.”
The threat could become global. After rice and wheat, cassava is the world’s third-largest source of calories. Under many names, including manioc, tapioca and yuca, it is eaten by 800 million people in Africa, South America and Asia.
The danger has been likened to that of Phytophthora infestans, the blight that struck European potatoes in the 1840s, setting off a famine that killed perhaps a million people in Ireland and forced even more to emigrate.
Several other crop pandemics have been successfully contained in Africa over the past few decades, but none affecting a crop as widely used as cassava. Here’s hoping that the attempts at containment are successful.
Image Credit: Angela Sevin