Dr. Angela Eni is the team leader for the West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) Project. AgroNigeria had an interview with her where she shared interesting facts about the WAVE team and their work. Read the interview here:
Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Angela Eni, I’m an Associate Professor of Virology in the Department of Biological Sciences, Covenant University in Nigeria. I am also the Team Leader for the Covenant University Hub of the West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) Project which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Foundation and DFID.
We understand that WAVE is committed to eradicating cassava virus in West Africa, how effective has the campaign been so far?
We are making good working with cassava farmers and in their farms to establish a baseline data on the prevalence and incidence of cassava virus diseases in each country. This is because the progress that is what I can say. In the last 3 to 4 years WAVE has been working in Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, and DR Congo. We’ve been last time there was any survey, country-wide, particularly in Nigeria was about 12 years ago and a lot could have changed since then, the viruses we are talking about are transmitted by insect vectors, so it was important to get baseline information of what the current situation is. Right now, now we have cassava virus distribution maps for these 7 countries and that’s progress because we can say for sure what is there and what isn’t there and we can say for sure that Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) isn’t in West Africa.
The current distribution of Cassava mosaic virus and East African cassava mosaic virus has been established and we now know where the high and low disease pressure sites are. The more critical outcome right now is that Cassava brown streak virus (CBSV) is not in West Africa. Another thing we have we done is that we have created awareness about the symptoms and mode of transmission of the CBSD among farmers and extension officers in these countries through several workshops but these countries are large and have not been adequately covered, so we’re working towards more effective communication strategies to scale up the work we have done so far.
We have also taken indigenous West African farmer-preferred cassava varieties from these countries, the varieties that our farmers are used to, that produces the kinds of products that they prefer and we have sent these materials to East Africa to screen them. The idea here is to plant these indigenous cassava varieties in places where the brown streak disease exists. We want to see if some of our local varieties are resistant to the disease. This is a preemptive management approach, for example if the virus is found in anywhere in these countries and we already have some resistant materials, we can quickly ask the farmers to plant the resistant varieties instead. This is a containment strategy because when the virus does not find a host to infect, it will die off.
We are also now reaching out to traditional rulers and the government; we want to work with existing structures to ensure that we have a proper response plan in place so that we are not reactive as usual. None of the countries in West Africa have done anything in this regard prior to WAVE, so I would say generally that we’ve made progress but there’s so much more to be done.
Okay! What measures have been adopted to ensure that the threads of activities continue?
For example, this meeting in Benin, we brought together Ministers of Agriculture from the 7 countries where WAVE is currently being implemented and the 5 countries that WAVE is looking to expand into in the next phase. Twelve countries came together and we have traditional rulers from these countries. The traditional rulers have access to the rural population; this is very important, so we are trying to engage all the relevant stakeholders in creating awareness. This is also to ensure that any intervention that comes out of all the work we’re doing is very easily adopted in the local communities. We also have the government involved; this kind of work cannot depend on donor funds solely. Sustainability of the WAVE project is critical and all other projects that donors and private partners are trying to fund. It is important that all these efforts are augmented by the government for sustainability purposes. If WAVE successfully puts a system in place to respond to cassava virus diseases, that system can remain in place to respond to other crop diseases in future. Respective governments need to take charge of this.
Can you give us a breakdown of what WAVE is all about?
WAVE stands for West African Virus Epidemiology for root and tuber crops and the major aim of WAVE is to enhance the productivity of root and tuber crops in West Africa through the management of the virus diseases especially of cassava. West Africa produce a large proportion of the cassava produced globally and over 800 million people depend on cassava for food. The virus diseases are particularly a problem because unlike bacterial or fungi diseases where you can apply bactericides or fungicides, viruses remain in the planting materials for life and are transmitted from generation to generation. In the first phase of the WAVE project, we are working with farmers to ensure that the viruses that affect cassava that lead to yield losses are minimized. We are also working to ensure that the Cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) doesn’t get into West Africa, or if it does get in, that each of the countries are prepared to respond rapidly and prevent the spread of the virus throughout the country.
How well would you say the public is sensitized about your activities?
Well, we’ve had television and radio programmes, as well as awareness workshops and we will continue to have these awareness campaigns.
Talking about awareness, do you think the media is partnering efficiently with your team and aligning with some of your programmes?
I would say yes and no. Yes, in the sense that there have been some media interactions. No, in the sense that there are restrictions to what we are allowed to say using the media because of the policies that exist. We’ve been told that if we make a lot of noise we can create panic and the media can say things that are out of place and we’ve had problems where some media people have said that Cassava brown streak is in West Africa for example, that could create a panic, so there’s a yes where we ensure that we are using the media to say the right thing about what to look out for, why it is important, what not to do etc, but we are not letting the media take over and say these things because they may pass on the wrong message.
Do you reckon that at the end of this event, you would have gotten participants to buy into the WAVE initiative?
As you saw in this programme, the Ministers of Agriculture for the countries that were present for the event, made the declaration to support the work we do, that is a big milestone for me. We hope that all the Ministers of Agriculture from these 12 countries will put a face to the fight. If they are declaring that they support WAVE in this fight, then other parastatals, other agencies under their ministries, will work with us towards the same goal, that is the idea. Then we had the traditional rulers, they sat through the long sessions yesterday, they made contribution, they asked questions, you could see their commitment, you could see their dedication.
I think this meeting was a huge success and it is going to move us to the next stage where we have other stakeholders being involved in this project, so yes, we are making progress.
Thank you so much for your time.
Thank you very much.
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