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Purging the plantain pests in Africa
Date:2/21/2008

A tiny pest threatening the staple diet of millions in Africa could soon be eradicated in a project announced today, bringing together plant experts from Leeds and Uganda.

Professor Howard Atkinson and Dr Peter Urwin from the University of Leeds Faculty of Biological Sciences have been awarded 500,000 through the 7 million Sustainable Agriculture Research for International Development (SARID) scheme launched today by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The Leeds project is one of 12 funded under the scheme, all of which involve unique partnerships between UK scientists and researchers from institutions in Africa, Asia and elsewhere.

Plantain and other varieties of cooking banana provide 30 per cent of the daily calorific intake of Ugandans and many of Africas other poorest populations. But up to half of the plantain harvest is lost through nematode worms feeding on and damaging their roots. The Leeds researchers will work with colleagues from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Uganda to find a solution to the problem.

The partnership will use the latest biotechnology techniques to develop pest resistance in plantains, which can then be made available to growers throughout Africa. A major part of the 3-year project is ensuring that the new resistant plantains can be produced across Africa where growing conditions can vary enormously.

Professor Atkinson says: The impact of this parasite can be overwhelming for families and communities that rely on plantain for their staple diet. Already nearly one third of the sub-Saharan African population is severely undernourished, so poor crop yields or worse - crop failure - can be catastrophic for subsistence farmers.

If we can make these crops more reliable through resistance to the nematode, not only will it secure dietary intake, but some land will also be freed u
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Contact: Jo Kelly
jokelly@campuspr.co.uk
44-113-258-9880
University of Leeds
Source:Eurekalert  

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