In the drive to boost agriculture through root and tuber crops production, Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID), have effected another set of training programme for Farmers and Extension Officers at the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umuahia, Abia State.
According to NRCRI Executive Director, Dr Julius Okonkwo, not less than 25 projects were being externally funded at the Institute by BMGF, DFID and other sponsors.
Okonkwo who made this known at a two seperate training workshops held recently for farmers and extension officers, selected from four states -Abia, Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Imo, described the funding as very important, timely and crucial in the drive towards attaining food security in the country.
One of the two training workshops named West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) training workshop, where farmers and extension officers were trained on how to identify and prevent Virus Diseases, was sponsored by Felix Houphouet Boigny University, Abidian, Cote’d’Ivore through funding from the two donors.
According to the Wave Project Country Leader in Nigeria, Dr. Joseph Onyeka, who is also the Head of NRCRI Pathology and Micro Biotechnology Unit, “the workshop was aimed at educating farmers on how to select disease-free planting materials in order to reduce the spread of the diseases.”
The second called “Building an Economically Sustainable, Integrated Cassava Seed System in Nigeria” alias “Basics Village Seed Entrepreneurs (VSEs) Training” ( BASICS), according to the NRCRI Director of Farming Systems, Extension and Training, Dr. Godwin Asomugha, who coordinates BASICS, the participants, were trained on how to identify Certified Seeds for planting in view of the fact that NRCRI has made available latest varieties of disease-tolerant root and tuber crops.
Okonkwo told The Guardian that the funding from the BMGF and DFID centered on making available disease free plantable cassava and seeds, “the target is to control viruses that attack cassava, some of which were already in the country like the Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD).
More worrisome, he said; “are other viruses that are not yet in Nigeria, but are more dangerous than CMD. So, the WAVE Project tries to stop those new viruses from coming into the country because it will be devastating to allow them come in and if they come in, we will not be able to contain them and they will adversely affect our production and output.”
According to Okonkwo, the BASICS project is also very important because it is looking at the quality of cassava planting materials. “Because these viruses cannot be seen by the naked eyes, there is need to screen all plantable materials. If we plant clean/disease-free materials, our crops will grow healthy. But if we plant virus-infected ones, the yield or harvest will be reduced by over 80 per cent.”