Monday, February 15, 2016

Tanzania hosts International meeting on Whitefly

By Esther Nakkazi

Tanzania is hosting the 2nd International Whitefly Symposium (IWS2) from 15-19 February, with over 130 scientists from all over the world. The whitefly is one of the world’s most destructive agricultural pests. 

It is responsible for twin cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) pandemics that are currently ravaging cassava production in sub-Saharan Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, whiteflies are a key threat to food security and efforts to reduce poverty in rural areas as they destroy and spread diseases in important crops of smallholder farmers such as vegetables, beans, cassava, cotton, and sweet potato, a statement from IITA says.

The pest causes major economic yield losses both by directly feeding on the plants and spreading viral diseases to a range of economically important crops, staples, and commercial flowers across the globe. Researchers will discuss knowledge on how it spreads disease and discuss efforts to control it.

“To feed itself Africa must intensify its agricultural production to produce more from the same or even less land. Intensification often leads to more pests and diseases. This meeting therefore brings together renowned whitefly researchers from over 24 countries, the private sector, and students to share and exchange the latest knowledge on the whitefly," said Dr Peter Sseruwagi, from the Mikocheni Agricultural Research Institute (MARI).

"They will especially focus on cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease, the two viral diseases spread by whiteflies and which have ravaged this key staple crop in sub-Saharan Africa,” Sseruwagi said.

The meeting’s co-chair, Dr James Legg, from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), added that “Africa is currently struggling with a wave of new viral diseases that are limiting the productivity of the poor smallholder farmers. These farmers have limited resources to invest in inputs such as pesticides and herbicides. We need to find sustainable science-based solutions to support them in tackling these challenges.”

Whiteflies and whitefly-transmitted viruses (WTVs) are also one of the biggest constraints to production of horticultural crops, especially vegetables. In addition to providing much-needed nutrients, vegetables are a high-value cash crop and a source of livelihood for many rural households in sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers often resort to heavy use of pesticides to control the pests and viral diseases, putting their lives and that of their customers at risk.

On the other hand, research on whitefly in the continent is inadequate. Apart from a lack of adequate funding, there are very few vector entomologists to adequately manage the whitefly and associated problems.

Therefore scientists from Africa and in particular Tanzania will have an opportunity to learn from their colleagues from other countries such as the US, China, Europe and Australia on new and innovative strategies to control the pest.

The symposium is co-organized by MARI and IITA in collaboration with the University of Dar es Salaam, Commission for Science and Technology (COSTECH) and the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) of Uganda. It is supported by USAID, the USAID-funded Africa RISING initiative, and Zhejiang University, China.

The first International Whitefly Symposium took place in Crete, Greece, in 2013, during which Tanzania won a bid to host the second symposium. The Symposium is a series of specialized scientific meetings created out of the merger of the International Bemisia Workshop (IBWS) and the European Whitefly Symposium (EWS).

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