A Professor of Plant Virology, Elvis Asare-Bediako, has called for the eradication of plant viruses in order to eliminate poverty and hunger to save lives.
Prof. Asare-Bediako noted that achieving food security in sub-Saharan Africa remained a great challenge, and indicated that plant viruses were a major contributing factor. “Plant diseases are therefore a threat to global food security,” he noted.
Prof. Asare-Bediako who is the Dean of the School of Agriculture made the call when he delivered his inaugural lecture on the topic “Plant Viruses: Fight the Enemy and Save Lives”.
Fight the Enemy
According to Prof. Asare-Bediako, plant viruses which he described as "the enemy" were very destructive adding that “As agriculture struggles to support the rapidly growing global population, plant disease reduces the production and quality of food, fibre and biofuel crops”. He further indicated that “The effect of plant diseases range from mild symptoms to catastrophes in which large areas food crops are destroyed”. He stressed that catastrophic plant disease exacerbated the current deﬁcit of food supply which several millions of people especially in sub-Saharan Africa were inadequately fed, leading to hunger and starvation. “Thus plant viruses are enemy to human existence or livelihood,” he stated.
Prof. Asare-Bediako described viruses as “submicroscopic entities that infect individual host plant cells” adding that “they have both living and non-living characters”. He said there were over 10 different plant viruses, which cause signiﬁcant economic losses in Africa. “These viruses affect income, food and nutrition security and hence the livelihoods of people in sub-Saharan Africa,” he pointed out.
Some of the plant viruses or diseases he mentioned were cassava mosaic, cassava brown streak virus, sweet potato virus disease, maize streak disease, Rice Yellow Mottle Virus, Cowpea viral diseases, Groundnut rosette, okra mosaic, mealybug wilt of pineapple, cocoa swollen shoot virus, among others. Describing the nature of the viruses, Prof. Asare-Bediako said the leaf normally turned yellow with either of the whole leaf or in a pattern of stripes or blotches. In addition, he said there would be signs of leaf distortion with curling and stunting of the whole plant as well as abnormalities in flower or fruit formation.
Management of Diseases
On the management of the diseases, Prof. Asare-Bediako noted that it was important to conduct an assessment to map the geographic distribution and determine the status of the disease in addition to providing baseline data to prioritise research problems. He added that mapping disease epidemics would facilitate management decisions. He was worried that some agronomic practices of farmers were contributory factors to the spread of diseases in their farms. For instance, he said majority of the farmers in districts surveyed found out that they use seeds from uncertified sources, over-reliance, and abuse of pesticides in managing virus or disease and uncontrolled weeds.
Prescribing strategies for the management of plant virus diseases, Prof. Asare Bediako recommended that the source of infection should be eradicated to prevent the virus from reaching the crop, minimizing the spread of the disease by controlling its vector and utilizing virus-free planting material. Another important strategy he mentioned was to plant under protected environments such as screenhouse or greenhouse to reduce the risk of exposure to insects that were vectors of virus disease.
As part of his contributions to eradicating the plant viruses, Prof. Asare-Bediako said he had conducted several kinds of research either alone or with colleagues and published the findings in peer-reviewed journals. He noted that some varieties of crops such as cassava, cowpea, maize among others have been released which were resistant to diseases.
In his recommendation, the Dean of the School of Agriculture called for environmental policies that support valuable research and development efforts in plant virus disease control at all levels including institutional, national, regional, and Africa-wide. “There should be effective collaboration among scientists and virologists at the institutional levels and among institutions,” he noted.
Prof. Asare-Bediako also said modern laboratory equipment and supplies were of critical importance in plant virology and therefore, asked for adequate financial resources from governments to effectively address plant virus problems in Africa. Furthermore, he said there was a need for adequate skilled manpower for virus detection, diagnosis, and control.