ST. LOUIS, MO, September 19, 2011 - Dr. Martin Fregene, Director of BioCassava (BC) Plus at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has been tasked with leading the implementation of the Cassava Green Revolution for Nigeria by Akin Adesina, the Honourable Minister for Agriculture and Natural Resources. Fregene will begin these duties September 15 and will remain a co-Principal Investigator of BC Plus sharing that role with Dr. Paul Anderson, Executive Director of International Programs at the Danforth Center.
Fregene will serve as a special advisor to the Honourable Minister for Agriculture and Natural Resources and will be part of a world class team responsible for the design and implementation of Nigeria's agricultural transformation agenda. The root cause of the food problem in Africa is deeply structural: low agricultural productivity. Total productivity of agriculture has been low in Sub-Saharan Africa. Between 1992 and 2003, total factor productivity in East Africa was a mere 0.4%, while West and Southern Africa averaged 0.6% and 1.3%, respectively. These rates do not keep up with the rate of population growth, and they call for greater investments to raise agricultural productivity. Nigeria's agricultural transformation agenda will tackle the root cause of low productivity by getting six things right: improved technologies, policies, markets, political will, financing and infrastructure
"It is a privilege and honor for me to be invited by the Honourable Minister of Agriculture to contribute to the long awaited effort to rebuild Nigeria's agricultural sector. I intend to apply experiences gained during my 20 years of working in South and North America, Asia and Africa to increase cassava productivity which will improve food security and create employment and income opportunities for cassava producers in Nigeria" said Fregene.
Fregene has been recognized for his extensive research focused on cassava improvement to fight ravages of viral diseases, micronutrient deficiency and increase productivity, via molecular breeding and biotechnology, and for his efforts to develop the biotechnology capacity of the National Root Research Institute (NCRCRI) in Nigeria.
"We see this as a wonderful opportunity for Dr. Fregene to employ his experience and capabilities to assist the Honourable Minister of Agriculture in his aggressive effort to revitalize the agricultural sector in Nigeria. The Danforth Center is proud to contribute this effort through Dr. Fregene's participation", said Paul Anderson.
More than 250 million sub-Saharan Africans rely on cassava as their major source of calories. Although it has many properties that make it an important food across much of Africa and Asia, it also has many limitations. A cassava-based diet does not provide complete nutrition and those who depend on cassava for food often suffer from chronic malnutrition, or insufficient intake of essential nutrients and vitamins including pro-vitamin A, iron and protein. In addition, Cassava is susceptible to many pathogens. Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) represent the most serious threats to cassava production in sub-Saharan Africa. Each year, CMD is responsible for a minimum of 30% losses of the harvest and CBSD has become an increasing threat in recent years. Farmers are desperate.
The Danforth Plant Science Center has been the lead on two major projects to address these challenges. BioCassava Plus is aimed at helping Africans avoid the devastating health consequences caused by micro nutrient malnutrition by delivering more nutritious, higher yielding, and more marketable cultivars of cassava. The cassava being developed will contain beneficial amounts of beta-carotene, which the human body uses to make Vitamin A, iron and protein. Beta-carotene is contained in various foods today, but those foods are often not readily available to many people in the developing world.
The Virus Resistant Cassava for Africa (VIRCA) project represents a collaboration between the Danforth Plant Science Center, the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Uganda and the Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute in Kenya to develop farmer-preferred cassava cultivars that are resistant to cassava virus diseases for delivery to African smallholder farmers thereby increasing root yields and food and economic security.