Epidemiological Modelling of Simultaneous Control of Multiple Cassava Virus Diseases

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Biointeractions and Crop Protection


In this project, we will collaborate with researchers from six West African countries (Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and Burkina Faso), which are part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development project WAVE (West Africa Virus Epidemiology for Root and Tuber Crops), to design effective control and management strategies for these cassava diseases. Our research aims to assess disease control methods that could maximise yield in a cost-effective manner. Current potential control methods for CMD and CBSD include using resistant or tolerant cultivars, removing infected plants and restricting trade. From our previous work on the control of cassava diseases, we know that implementing these measures may not always be straightforward. For example, trade restrictions limit the dispersal of the disease, but also slow the dispersal of new varieties through the informal trade sector. This suggests that control through a combination of strategies requires careful planning.

Recently the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development have awarded the project "West African Virus Epidemiology for Root and Tuber Crops" (WAVE). The WAVE project aims to collect data to underpin the development of disease control strategies. We currently support the WAVE project with sampling guidance, however, within WAVE there is no capacity to use the data to develop models and produce a set of effective control options for multiple diseases simultaneously. Our proposal aims to identify, using modelling in combination with the data from the WAVE project, how best to coordinate a combined approach to controlling these diseases based on the use of resistant and tolerant planting material, which will help decision-makers across the region to plan how best to implement disease control strategies to alleviate the yield loses caused.

In order to assess the most effective cassava disease control strategies, we will begin our work by modelling the distribution of cassava in the region, using the most recent satellite population, cropland distribution and cassava production data. We will use this host distribution map to advise on sampling strategies, as well as offering statistical and data management support throughout. We will then develop a model for the spread of CMD and explore factors that deliver robust control of the pathogen. We will adapt a previous model on the spread of CBSD to a West-African context, and will determine both the risk of introduction and the likely rate of spread should it reach West Africa. We will then identify factors that are effective in rapid containment and eradication of the disease. Finally, we will combine the models to consider the dispersal and control of both diseases simultaneously. We will use this to advise WAVE collaborators on the best use of control strategies in order to increase the likelihood of successfully managing CMD while retaining the ability to eradicate CBSD incursions. This will lead to significant reductions in yield losses attributed to both diseases for cassava growers across the region and a subsequent increase in population welfare.

Technical Summary

Cassava mosaic disease and cassava brown streak disease are key restraints on crop production in sub-Saharan Africa. The former is near-ubiquitous, while the latter has recently begun to spread from coastal regions of East Africa inland, with real fears that it could spread to vital cassava-growing regions in West Africa. Research groups across the region are working on these threats, but have little statistical or modelling support.

This support is required in order to understand dispersal of the pathogens and to realise effective control measures. Control measures must take account of multiple different control strategies (such as roguing, trade restrictions and the distribution of resistant or tolerant material) and diseases in order to ensure that strategies complement one another and simultaneously combat all diseases present, or at the least do not manage one while worsening another.

As control measures such as improved material and trade restrictions are currently considered separately, and data have yet to emerge on their effectiveness, we will use statistical and mathematical modelling to integrate current knowledge about the diseases and their control in order to compare the effectiveness and risks of failure of different strategies. We will use the models to produce guidance to be disseminated through WAVE to stakeholders to improve the success of disease control measures.

Planned Impact

The outputs of this project will be fourfold; a fine-scale cassava distribution map for West and Central Africa, a novel model of dispersal of cassava mosaic and cassava brown streak diseases for testing scenarios, continuous statistical and data management support for our collaborators and a set of guidelines for strategies to increase the likelihood of successfully (i) controlling CMD, (ii) containing and eradicating CBSD incursions and (iii) managing both diseases in an integrated manner. The implementation of these guidelines will be primarily through our West African Virus Epidemiology for Root and Tuber Crops (WAVE) project partners. The WAVE project is focused on understanding the viral threats to root and tuber crops across six countries in West Africa, as well as the establishment of national and regional capacities to respond to these threats. As such, our work outputs will be integrated by WAVE into their strategic programme.

Who will benefit and how

This project will have a number of academic beneficiaries, including researchers working on cassava and the control of its viral diseases across the whole of Africa. Those researchers looking to model or sample for cassava diseases in West Africa specifically, as well as those hoping to study markets, food security and nutrition, will also benefit. In addition, the work will positively impact on researchers, primarily modellers, studying the control of multiple diseases at different stages of establishment using a combination of control strategies in other plant pathosystems. Finally, researchers working on the project will themselves develop collaborative and modelling skills, which could be applied to similar problem sets.

Our research will indirectly benefit decision-makers involved in the control of cassava viral diseases. This includes policy-makers wanting to best identify strategies to reduce yield losses and increase resilience to disease, breeders looking to distribute improved or disease-free material with maximum effect and governmental and non-governmental organisations similarly wanting to distribute material and establish interventions with best impact. Our work will also assist seed system growers wanting to market their material in an efficient manner, and improve the performance of their material through effective management.

It is unclear what an optimal approach to disease control for either of these economically important diseases in West Africa would be, let alone tackling them combined. The outputs of this research will therefore enable the above decision-makers to develop appropriate, resilient approaches to control, which will decrease losses due to disease. Advice on this will be deliverable within 5 years, and will shape future strategies deployed in the longer term to combat these diseases.

Society will directly benefit over the longer term since the outputs of this project will promote food security in West Africa. Cassava is a highly drought resistant crop and is consumed by over 70% of the continent's population. By improving the success of control strategies for the cassava diseases CMD and CBSD, this project will stabilise and increase the production of cassava across the region, helping to deliver and safe and sufficient supply of nutritious food in LMICs.

Finally, through the auspices of our collaborating partners and the network of decision makers described, our research will benefit economic development in LMICs including individual cassava growers, consumers and processors through reduced disease presence, and hence reduced yield losses. This will increase their quality of life through improved economic welfare and the delivery of more sustainable food security, promoting the economy of the entire region.


10 25 50
Description A cassava distribution map for both East and Wets Africa has been developed. We are currently validating it on the ground.

We have developed a model to optimize the deployment of limited control resources. It shows severity can be decreased optimally but the velocity of spread cannot be changed.
Exploitation Route After the validation the map will be published, and I foresee many people and organizations using it as it is the currently best map available.

The analysis can help farmers to decide how best to deploy limited resources.

The methods developed could be applied to other disease systems.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink

Description The cassava distribution map is being used by both East African and West African disease monitoring teams. It is currently the best cassava distribution map available and I foresee a lot of use by different organizations once it is published.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Food Seedbed Pre-Accelerator Programme
Amount € 10,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) 
Sector Public
Country Hungary
Start 07/2019 
End 12/2019
Description GCRF-IAA
Amount £8,700 (GBP)
Funding ID BB/GCRF-IAA/17/18 
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2017 
End 02/2018
Description SMARTIES: Surveillance and Management of multiple Risks to Treescapes: Integrating Epidemiology and Stakeholder behaviour
Amount £799,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/T007729/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2020 
End 04/2023
Title Reaction diffusion model 
Description This is a model based on partial differential equations that aims to optimise cassava virus diseases control when the availability of resources for their control is limited. The model investigates how to distribute resources depending on 3 main variables: 1) the size of the control in space, 2) what is the disease incidence when control is applied, and 3) how intensively is control applied. The model is solved numerically and explores a large number of management case scenarios. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Using this model we are able to optimise control measures for the eradication or management of vector-transmitted cassava virus diseases which in turn aid cassava stakeholders decrease their yield losses due to disease presence. 
Description Collaboration with Dr Justin Pita 
Organisation Félix Houphouët-Boigny University
Country Cote d'Ivoire 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have previously established a collaboration with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) funded West African Virus Epidemiology (WAVE) for Root and Tuber Crops project and the Cassava Diagnostic Project (CDM) in East Africa. Both projects in total represent 14 countries in the region, which include the main cassava producers on the continent. Our team in collaboration with BMGF and CMD have built a cassava distribution model to enhance advice on sampling locations. We worked together on monitoring cassava pathogens based on current and historical surveys and have provided sampling strategy advice. In addition, we have been looking at various control strategies in relation to dissemination of clean planting material. We have attended annual meetings and workshops, which allowed us to exchange knowledge, disseminate results and create new collaborations with scientists in some African countries and in the UK including the recent annual WAVE meeting, where our work on the GCRF project was presented. After the WAVE meeting we established collaboration with Dr Justin Pita from the Universite Felix-Houphouet-Boigny, Cote d'Ivoire and Prof Monde Godefroid from the Agriculture University of Yangambi, DRC. We are working together to design strategies of management and control of cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). These strategies are based on models that aim to deploy limited control resources in the most optimal way to control the dispersal of these devastating virus diseases in order to increase the likelihood of successfully manage Cassava mosaic disease and potentially eradicate Cassava brown streak disease incursions into West Africa.
Collaborator Contribution This collaboration has allowed to establish a strong relationship with researchers in Africa with expertise in the agronomy and biology of the cassava system, as well as the virology of cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD). Dr Justin Pita is the executive director of the WAVE project and is actively involved in the monitoring and control of cassava diseases. Prof Monde Godefroid is the WAVE coordinator in Eastern DRC. Their expertise and knowledge of the biological systems as well as their extensive researcher network allows us to better and more accurately develop our models for cassava virus disease control and management.
Impact We obtained an Impact Acceleration Award to develop an accurate crop distribution map of cassava in Uganda and Ivory Coast. The output of this project will validate cassava density distribution models in Uganda and Ivory cost.
Start Year 2017
Description 14th International Plant Virus Epidemiology Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Symposium focused in understanding the interactions and epidemiology of plant-virus systems. Presented a talk on how to deploy limited control resources temporally and spatially to limit disease impact. After the talk we had discussions and questions as well as formed connections with other scientists involved in the symposium.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://www.ipve2019.com/
Description Building Global Partnerships for Global Challenges Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The purpose of the symposium was to share best practice, develop new connections, and generate new research partnerships that help to tackle global development challenges. As a result of the symposium I joined the Community Network for African Vector-Borne Plant Viruses (CONNECTED) which is highly relevant to this award.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://globalchallengessymposium.wordpress.com/
Description NRI & Rothamsted Collaboration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Natural Resources Institute (NRI) visited Rothamsted Research on 17th July 2019. This visit follows aimed to identify areas of expertise where we could possibly collaborate for more applied, cross disciplinary International projects. Potential future projects and collaborations may follow from this meeting.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Organisation of Internal seminar 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Organisation of Quantitative Biological Forum, a seminar series aiming to provide access of information of quantitative methods and approaches to all members of the institute. Has allowed members of the institute unfamiliar with quantitative methods to tap on these subjects with attendances from different research backgrounds
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Soap Box Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Women scientist present in an accessible way their research to promote public understanding of science and the importance of women in science
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL http://soapboxscience.org/2019/06/26/from-astronomy-to-biology-meet-vasthi-alonso/
Description Tracking and forecasting of pest and pathogen movement 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact A workshop focused on understanding different methodologies and approaches to explain long-distance dispersal movement of pests and pathogens to help develop guidance and policies that can help monitor, control and manage pest and disease. Future collaboration and a second workshop including partners at CSIRO will take place in the UK during the summer of 2020
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
Description WAVE meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Attendance and presentation of our work to the West African Virus Epidemiology for Root and Tuber Crops annual meeting (2017). As a result of this meeting we developed links with Prof. Monde Godefroid, WAVE Cordinator in Eastern DRCongo and strengthen our relationship with Dr Justin Pita.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017