Cassava Threatened by Witches’ Broom Disease

Cambodia’s cassava crop is under serious threat if a disease that has been spreading in the country since last year is not brought under control soon, agricultural experts said Thursday.

Witches’ broom disease, which is named after the broom-like leaf growth at the top of the plant, and attacks the starch in the roots, looks set to aggressively spread unless farmers take action soon. The Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) will next week host what it describes as “urgent meetings” in Siem Reap to raise awareness among government officials and farmers in an effort to stamp out the disease before it causes significant damage to the industry.

“In Cambodia, the destructive cassava witches’ broom, a systemic disease that results in 10-15% [yield] loss…spells disaster for farmers. The disease causes yellowing, leaf proliferation and stunting of cassava plants,” said Kris Wyckhuys, CIAT’s entomologist in Asia, in an email. Cassava is one of Cambodia’s most important agricultural products.

Local agronomist and cassava expert Lim Sokundarun said that after being first detected in the region in Thailand several years ago, the disease then spread to Vietnam and more recently to Cambodia.

“[The] outbreak [began] in Cambodia last year and will continue to this year if farmers [are] still using the planting material that [was] detected last year,” he wrote in an email.

“The main problem is Cambodia always imports the cassava planting material from Vietnam, especially during the planting time in April… which make[s] the disease pass to Cambodia so fast,” he added.

Leng Ieng, the owner of a cassava plantation in Kompong Thom province, said he noticed at the end of October that 100 of his plants were diseased. Though the infected number accounts for a fraction of the plants on his 8-hectare plantation, Mr. Ieng is nonetheless concerned.

“I have not visited my plantation for one month, so I don’t know the current situation, but I am worried about it spreading further,” he said.

Tiv Vanthy, deputy director of the Kompong Thom provincial agriculture department, said that since the witches’ broom outbreak began in August, agriculture officials had been working with a private company—whose name he could not immediately recall—to make sure that farmers grappling with the disease could easily purchase the appropriate remedy.

“A private company has been distributing medicine which is proving effective, and on the whole farmers are collecting yield now,” he said.

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