Training workshop on Diagnostics for African researchers

Organised by: Dr Gilbert Nchongboh Chofong and Dr Katja R. Richert-Pöggeler.

When and where: 27th-29th September 2022, Julius Kühn-Institut in Braunschweig, Germany.

Plants provide 98% of the oxygen we breathe and 80% of our daily calory uptake (Plant Health from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC)). Despite being essential for human survival, 40% of plant crops are annually sacrificed because of plant pests and diseases (12th of May International Day of Plant Health, IDPH), having a detrimental effect on communities that financially depend on agriculture. Aiming to raise public and policy-maker awareness on plant health being critically linked to human health, the first IDPH was celebrated by FAO partners on the 12th of May 2022 with the theme of ‘’Plant health innovation for food security’’. Find here (https://www.fao.org/webcast/home/en/item/5841/icode/) the online conference “Protecting Plants – Protecting Life”, that was attended by more than 140 countries with a total of 2000 registrations. As the environmental, social and financial landscape becomes more complicated by the minute, the challenges of climate change, food security for fighting hunger, as well as education on plant health are on the spotlight.

Cameroon as a case-study:

Located in Central-West Africa, Cameroon is, often, referred to as “Africa in miniature” for its representative climates and vegetation from the entire African continent including coast, desert, mountains, rainforest, and savanna. With natural resources being well suited to agriculture and arboriculture, an estimated 70% of the population are farmers, while agriculture accounted for 17.38% of GDP in 2020. Agriculture is primarily destined to the subsistence of local farmers who sell their surplus produce or, in some cases, maintain separate fields for commercial use. The coastal environment favors extensive cultivation of commercial crops such as bananas, cocoa, oil palms, rubber, cola , and fruit tree crops (mango, avocado, citrus, pawpaw), while inland, at the South Cameroon Plateau, crops include coffee, sugar, tobacco and tea. In the north, natural conditions favor the cultivation of cotton, groundnuts, and rice (https://infoflr.org/countries/Cameroon). The western highlands region is of particular interest, as food is intensively produced using traditional methods, primarily by women. In this area, coffee is one of the major cash crops, among others (tea, maize, rice, potatoes, beans and vegetables e.g. cabbage, tomatoes).

Plant disease often results from a population of viruses, rather than a single virus, infecting the plant. When not diagnosed correctly, an impropre choice of management approach, e.g. pesticide application, may be potentially harmful for the farmer, the crop and the environment, whereas the disease is not efficiently controled. This highlights the necessity of training farmers, as well as the scientific bodies in charge, in order to be able to perform relevant diagnostic tests for detecting virus-induced plant disease. In the case of Cacao swollen shoot virus disease (CSSVD), which is endemic to west Africa, the plant is infected by a pool of badnaviruses (more than 11 strains identified so far), transmitted by mealybugs. The current research objectives for tackling CSSVD in Cameroon fall under the framework of developing smart and sustainable farming systems, in order to preserve natural resources while increasing production efficiency. This will be achieved through a multi-disciplinary approach comprising of actions targeting prevention, diagnostics and education. Preventative measures include developing cocoa cultivar diversity, in order to address plant susceptibility/resistance, controls to ensure virus-free germplasm and breeding programs. In parallel, diagnostic tools for virus detection will be developed and surveillance systems for monitoring crop health will be put in place. At the fundamental research front, CSSVD components such as diversity, biology, etiology, epidemiology and vectors will be studied. Last, but not least, educational aspects of the initiative include training farmers in using virus/vector control tools, as well as implementing higher education programs in agronomy, phytopathology, virology and bioinformatics.

The Training workshop on diagnostics for African researchers, aligned with the current needs, aims to provide a set of tools (electron microscopy and reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for virus detection. Additionally, the workshop provides an opportunity for researchers to network and coordinate for the prevention of future outbreaks. The workshop is organised by Dr Gilbert Nchongboh Chofong and Dr Katja R. Richert-Pöggeler, and will take place on the 27th-29th September 2022 at the JKI in Braunschweig, Germany.

Text by Semeli Platsaki, PhD


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