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Cassava: Can Science Save a Diet Staple?

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Fighting Crop Disease

Cassava: Can Science Save a Diet Staple?

In Tanzania last year, I visited with farmers whose survival—like that of millions of other Africans—depends on the cassava, a diet staple threatened by disease. I also visited with African scientists on the forefront of efforts to protect the cassava and other vitally important crops.

Cassava is a staple crop that provides a basic diet for more than 500 million people worldwide.


Cassava is a starchy root that must be processed before eating because it contains small traces of cyanide. It is often grated, dried, and roasted to make garri, a flour; the leaves are eaten as vegetables in a stew.

Processing Cassava

When dried to a powder, cassava is known as tapioca.


These cassava plants are infected with mosaic disease, making the cassava root much smaller and less nutritious.

Mosaic Disease

Christina supports her family by farming cassava. In the past two years, Christina’s crop has been invaded by two cassava diseases. Because of these diseases, she is depleting her savings to buy cassava to feed her three children. For Christina and other small farmers getting food is the most pressing daily concern.(Mapinga Village, Tanzania)

Christina Mwinjipe Inspects Her Cassava Crop

When I was in Tanzania last year, I met Dr. Joseph Ndunguru, a plant scientist leading a project to fight the mosaic and brown streak diseases that attack cassava crops. Dr. Ndunguru is part of a new generation of African scientists building up the capacity to do innovative science in Africa.

Dr. Joseph Ndunguru

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