Scientists have said there is a need to find effective ways to deal with a deadly disease dubbed “Bacterial Potato Wilt Disease (PBW)” which continues to plague Irish potato growers.
According to researcher Florence Uwamahoro, the disease is very widespread.
“We conducted a survey in 10 districts and found that almost all the farmers in the districts face the problem,” she said.
She said that there are risk factors including the lack of knowledge in terms of agricultural practices.
“When the potato plants are close to each other, there is a high risk of developing such a disease,” she said.
She said monoculture, an agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, is also among the risk factors.
“Intercropping slows the spread of the disease,” she said, adding that no agrochemicals can cure the disease.
“Farmers can even lose the entire crop, and the disease can also be spread through affected potato seeds and soil,” the scientist explained.
Scientists say that bacterial potato wilt disease (PBW) is considered the second most important disease in potato production in Rwanda after late blight, although a recent study reported that according to farmers, the damage caused by bacterial potato wilt (PBW), is more severe than that caused by late blight.
They say that PBW disease control strategies include using healthy seed and planting in uninfected soil, using less susceptible varieties, rotating with non-host plants, cultural practices such as control nematodes, remediation and chemical control, adding an integrated strategy for these methods. is recommended to reduce the incidence of bacterial wilt.
The majority of farmers (80 to 100 percent) reported that PBW disease was the main disease constraint in the potato crop, followed by late blight reported by 0 to 73 percent of respondents in different districts. according to the research paper.
Six factors such as cropping system, variety grown, seed source, crop density, and sharing of agricultural implements were tested and found to vary in association with the incidence and severity of PBW.
“Agricultural development efforts to limit the impact of PBW should focus on improving farmers’ uptake of best practices, i.e. increasing spacing or decreasing planting density, practice of crop rotation, including other non-host crops in potato fields and sterilization tools, ”the scientists recommend.
Biotechnology in the fight against diseases
Regarding potato blight, a new imported Irish potato variety, produced through biotechnology, which will not require the use of agrochemicals, as it is resistant to potato blight, may soon be tried in Rwanda, Patrick Karangwa, The Director General of the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Authority (RAB) said.
Karangwa said biotechnology is intended to help Rwanda produce improved crops tolerant to drought, disease and pests.
“The new variety produced using biotechnology to build disease resistance will not require the use of many agrochemicals like farmers do. This is a solution because agrochemicals and pesticides are harmful to the environment, ”he said.
He said the variety will also reduce the cost spent on agrochemicals.
Rwanda produces an average of 916,000 tonnes of Irish potatoes each year, making it the third most popular food crop in the country.
Potatoes cover 3.9 percent of the total national cultivated area.
The average productivity of potatoes is ten tons per hectare, which is low compared to the yield potential.
The northern volcanic region accounts for over 80 percent of the national potato production and 60 percent of the production is used directly for domestic consumption in this region.
According to Geraldine Mukeshimana, Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) recently in Rwanda will share experiences and practices in the field of biotechnology in the countries of Kenya, Uganda , Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Rwanda and Nigeria.
OFAB is a partnership platform in Africa that contributes to the creation of an environment conducive to research, development and deployment of biotechnology for the benefit of small African farmers.
“This is an important step in advancing agricultural research and applications and an opportunity for our people to interact and get the latest information on agricultural biotechnology,” she said.
By embracing the technological upgrading and capacity building of Rwandan farmers and rural value chain actors, she said they would make informed decisions to be on par with the rest of the African countries that are already benefiting from agricultural biotechnology like South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, among others.
Mukeshimana said the Rwandan government recognizes the role of agricultural biotechnology in addressing the challenges facing the agricultural sector in particular, “those related to the adverse effects of climate change such as the increasing incidence of pests and diseases and the loss of biodiversity “.
The adoption of agricultural biotechnology in Rwanda will help boost sustainable agricultural development in the face of dwindling factors of production such as limited land, she said, adding, “It is time for African countries to earn money. time, by increasing investment in science, technology and innovation. “
She said there is a need to use the innovations of local scientists to help reduce the food import bill in Africa.
The food import bill for Africa rose to $ 49 billion in 2019, from $ 35 billion in 2015.
Pending GMO law
Juliet Kabera, chief executive of the Rwanda Environmental Management Authority, said the institution works closely with the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) to ensure that any biotechnology used is safe.
“We are the authority to manage biotechnology after Rwanda ratified the Cartagena protocol to ensure biosafety,” she said.
The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology which can have adverse effects on biological diversity, also taking into account risks to human health.
It was adopted on January 29, 2000 and entered into force on September 11, 2003.
She said Rwanda has devised a biosecurity strategy to make sure Rwandans are aware.
“In the strategy, we now have a biosafety bill that will be discussed in cabinet and later in parliament. We are setting up laboratories and raising awareness so that we can know what we are doing on the market, especially with regard to genetically modified organisms (GMOs), ”she said.