We funded projects which revitalised cassava production in East Africa after the outbreak of a new variant of cassava mosaic disease by forming a network dedicated to accelerating the development and dissemination of disease-resistant varieties.


By the 1980s, cassava was providing more than half the calorific needs of 200 million people in Africa. Yet yields of the crop in East Africa were being severely reduced by Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD). Researchers developed disease-resistant varieties that out-yielded local varieties by up to five times, but struggled to transfer these to farmers. The situation was particularly severe in Uganda, where the outbreak of a new variant of CMD saw 3,000 people starve to death at the end of the 1980s and took place against the backdrop of civil war which destroyed the country’s research infrastructure and left the extension service in disarray.

Gatsby funded the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) in Uganda to establish, train and resource a national network of extension workers dedicated to cassava. In response to the CMD-epidemic, NARO accelerated the normal process of developing and releasing resistant varieties and sent promising clones for on-farm evaluation straight-away, training farmers to collect data and listening to their views on the advantages and disadvantages of the new varieties.

NARO also sent stems of resistant varieties to a wide range of institutions, including prison farms and schools, with each acting as hubs for local multiplication. Overall, 12 high-yielding, resistant varieties were introduced in Uganda and more than 35,000 farmers and extension workers were trained. 100,000 hectares of the improved varieties were planted and cassava production quickly exceeded pre-CMD epidemic levels.

Gatsby subsequently partnered with the Rockefeller Foundation to fund the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute to develop and adapt this researcher-led model of dissemination for Western Kenya.

Gatsby also supported IITA and the Institut de Recherches Agronomiques to champion improved varieties at village level in Cameroon. In South-West Cameroon alone more than half a million cuttings of disease-resistant cassava were distributed per year from 1985 to 1990.