CRS Reaches 1.2 Million African Farm Families in Fight Against Cassava Disease

May 7, 2012 by


Kim Pozniak
Catholic Relief Services
(410) 951-7281

BALTIMORE, MD, May 7, 2012 — Catholic Relief Services (CRS) will mark the achievements of a 4.5-year, $23.8 million project to fight diseases that could have devastated the critical cassava crop in east and central Africa with an event on Tuesday, May 15, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Since 2007, the Great Lakes Cassava Initiative (GLCI), funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, enabled CRS and its partners to help small farmers in six countries: Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi protect cassava  — a key source of food and income — from two spreading pandemics that were decimating as much as 70 percent of crop yields. Through the project, more than 1.2 million families on small farms gained access to improved cassava varieties that are adapted to local conditions, resist the cassava diseases and have higher yields.

Women carry bundles of cassava stems they received during a Great Lake Cassava Initiative dissemination in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Photo by Carl D. Walsh for CRS.

Cassava, a staple crop grown primarily by women, has been ravaged by two diseases — Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and Cassava Brown Streak Disease (CBSD) — which can render the roots and leaves inedible. As cassava is the primary food staple of sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for more than half of all calories consumed, these diseases were a crucial factor in severe food insecurity in the region.

“While the diseases haven’t been completely eradicated, the prevalence of CMD, for example, has been greatly reduced, largely due to the aggressive promotion of CMD-resistant varieties achieved through this project,” said Dai Peters, Project Director for the GLCI. “The identification, multiplication and dissemination of disease-tolerant, healthy cassava varieties have enabled more than one million farm families to recover their cassava productivity.”

Over the past four years, GLCI worked through an extensive partnership network, including 55 local partners, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA), as well as national agricultural research and phyto-sanitary institutions in six countries.   Through the initiative, CRS helped local partners prepare for and respond to the pandemics in the region, and worked with more than 3,000 farmer groups, teaching them how to recognize disease symptoms and take proactive steps to prevent spread.

GLCI also equipped 206 local partner staff with mini laptop computers – modified to endure rugged field conditions — for faster information exchange and data entry. CRS partnered with Intel to roll out 250 2go PCs to GLCI partners and field agents, most of whom had never used computers before. The laptops were used to monitor and evaluate the progress of GLCI and address problems as they emerged to ensure the success of the project.

One of the farmers who benefitted from the project in Uganda, Joshua Sebwato, will be at the event in Washington, DC, and is available for interviews.

For more information and details about the event, please contact Kim Pozniak at

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Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States.  The agency provides assistance to people in need in nearly 100 countries, without regard to race, religion or nationality.  For more information, please visit or


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