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DRC Plant Disease Report

  • Special Report
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • May 16, 2017
DRC Plant Disease Report

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  • Summary

  • Summary

    Decades of protracted conflict, sporadic violence and insecurity, displacement, and political upheaval in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continue to impact both local and national market and trade systems, local economies, household livelihoods, and staple food cultivation. Comprising the provinces of North and South Kivu, Katanga, Maniema, and Orientale, Eastern DRC boasts unparalleled access to high-value resources, including minerals, fuel, and gold, as well as potential for agricultural production. Despite national-level economic gains, poor governance and protracted conflict have continued to drive widespread, severe poverty and both chronic and acute food insecurity at a provincial level. With subsistence agriculture supporting most household food needs and market access, the frequent emergence of additional shocks, including plant diseases, on a fundamentally unstable and fluctuating staple food system can have a severe and reverberating impact on food security and the stability of staple food supply in Eastern DRC.

    Limited reach of institutional support and the dominance of subsistence farming constrain staple food production in Eastern DRC, which is chronically food insecure. Food production is also prohibited by poor input quality, small-scale production, restrictive land tenure practices, the pervasive threat of plant diseases (especially affecting cassava and bananas), and outdated cultivation practices. The cyclical nature of displacement, particularly in the Kivus, increases acute vulnerability to various shocks, disrupting food access. Poor households in Eastern DRC are heavily dependent on markets to meet food needs, rendering households vulnerable to price shocks and market conditions, and the stability of income earning opportunities to access staple foods. Recent Integrated Phase Classification (IPC) analysis highlights scale of food insecurity, asserting that nearly 6 million people nationwide experience Crisis (IPC Phase 3) or Emergency (IPC Phase 4) acute food insecurity; most acutely food insecure populations reside in the Kivus, Maniema, and Katanga.

    Eastern DRC relies heavily on cassava as a staple food source, and on bananas as essential complementary, and often, as a key food and income source. Both staples offer significant nutritional benefits, are rich in vitamins, calories, and maintain a steady market value. Since the emergence of cassava mosaic disease (CMD), cassava brown streak disease (CBSD), and banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) in early 2000s, the impacts of these highly transmissible viruses have steadily infiltrated local cultivation of these critical staples, compromising income earning, and deconstructing livelihoods strategies built on the production, consumption, and marketing of banana and cassava products. These plant diseases, which destroy entire plants, as well as the plant yields, are more or less endemic in some areas of Eastern DRC. The negative impact of plant diseases on food security have been widely reported and anecdotally observed; however, a limited body of empirical and representative evidence regarding the incidence and severity of these diseases on cassava and banana producing regions remains a barrier to mitigation and prevention. Research efforts have identified disease transmission patterns through vectors, environmental conditions, and conducive farming practices, all of which point to a need for increased study and community mobilization to standardize the detection, management, and eradication of cassava and plant diseases.

    To ascertain the actual impact of XBW and CMD on crop production, a review of general constraints is critical. Crop diseases, particularly XBW and CMD have critically impacted staple crop yields, production capacity, and food supplies; however, plant diseases are not necessarily the most prominent constraints to improved agricultural production of cassava and bananas. The literature agrees that crop diseases, especially CMD, BXW, among others, have damaged, destroyed, and effectively halted production of these crops in areas where they have proliferated (Murphy et al. 2015). However, endemic and structural obstacles within the agriculture sector, and especially poorly understood risk management and mitigation techniques, preference for local plant varieties, traditional cultivation and marketing techniques have both directly impacted the volume and quality of crop production in the region and exacerbated the spread and impact of plant diseases. The intersection of existing risk factors and constraints within the agricultural sector, and the associated potential for transmission of plant diseases requires further attention to fully assess the role of various root causes of poor or compromised crop production in areas considered to be negatively affected by XBW and CMD.

    Generally, at a regional level, the adoption of control measures has remained slow and more ad hoc than systematic, limiting the potential for the success of sustainable control of the disease. While some communities and farming groups have adopted and continue to practice control measures, by and large, these are sporadic and inconsistent. Proven control methods, such as Single Disease Stem Removal for BXW, demonstrate that control methods are feasible when adopted and practiced at the household or community level. However, some control methods are more difficult to mainstream, such as the dissemination and replication of virus-resistant cassava or banana varieties, due to cost, logistics, and strong local preference for more familiar plant varieties. Efforts to control banana and cassava diseases in Eastern DRC have not been systematic or supported by larger, institutional policy or training; therefore, the adoption of various control methods has largely been dependent on smaller-scale agency programming, and the perceptions and will of farming communities to prioritize a change in crop management and FEWS NET DRC Plant Disease Report May 2017 agricultural practices, such as cleaning tools and minimizing free range grazing to prevent the transmission of infected material across cropped areas and communities.

    Some evidence suggests that farming households attempt to adjust to the proliferation of cassava and banana diseases, developing alternative income-earning and food production strategies. Decisions to repurpose agricultural land already vulnerable to the impact of crop disease are often shaped by technical capacity, as well as knowledge and access to additional inputs and cropping materials. For example, farmers have changed their livelihoods strategies to include activities such as charcoal making and selling wood. Some communities in North Kivu reportedly have shifted from banana production to the cultivation of alternative crops and abandonment of farming to purse mining and more lucrative business ventures. Similar risk aversion strategies are noted by research data collected from 2009 to 2011 in other Great Lakes countries, including Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda (Nkuba et al. 2015). Some reports suggest that households shift from cultivating bananas and cassava to other crops, such as maize, tubers, and root crops, and small animal husbandry. Though risk aversion strategies may import sophisticated calculations that are not yet fully understood by research and evaluation, the abundance of cultivated crops in Eastern DRC, and community access to vibrant border-markets suggests that households are able to make intentional shifts that decrease the impact of cassava and banana disease on food access and availability.

    Literature broadly agrees that plant disease has had and will continue to have a significant impact on households who depend on cassava and bananas for their food and income. Most information regarding the impact of banana wilt and cassava diseases on livelihoods is largely focused on North and South Kivu, where bananas have historically played a critical role for income generation, although there is general agreement that communities in other provinces have also been impacted to some degree. Substantial and comprehensive research regarding the impact of plant disease on livelihoods in the eastern DRC is largely anecdotal, limited, outdated, or not readily available for review; disaggregating the impact of plant disease on livelihoods amidst a variety of other endemic and chronic factors is difficult, as livelihoods in areas affected by plant disease may cyclically and/or sporadically be affected by displacement and conflict or instability. More research and analysis is recommended in order to fully comprehend and address the current and potential impact of cassava and banana diseases on vulnerable livelihoods strategies in Eastern DRC.

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