Cassava is no longer seen as just a “poor man's crop”. It is now sought after, and considered a promising investment, especially because of the recent advances in the Philippine feed milling industry. Production has still lagged behind, however. Diseases have continuously plagued cassava plantations in the country. The most menacing one, is the Cassava Phytoplasma Disease (CPD).

CPD causes visible stunting of branches and yellowing of leaves in cassava, giving it the shaggy appearance of a witches' broom, hence the local term “witches' broom disease”. But not only does it affect the plant's appearance, CPD also induces root loss in cassava. Early infection, with symptoms appearing in 2-3 months of planting can wipe out entire plantations. And even if your plants survive the complete wipeout, CPD infected cassava plants produce bitter flour because of the high hydrocyanic acid content. That makes it inedible, and unsuitable for sale.

This pressing problem has driven Dr. Erlinda Vasquez, CAFS faculty, Philippine Rootcrops Research and Training Center Director, and recent Lingkod Bayan Awardee, in the search for a possible answer to the threats of CPD. One solution that she and her research team found through the antibiotic: 'streptomycin'.

Through a research funded by the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Agricultural Research (DABAR) entitled “Management of Cassava Phytoplasma Disease: Survey, Diagnosis, Characterization, and Control”, a pre-planting treatment to control CPD in cassava has been developed. By dipping Cassava planting materials in a mixture of streptomycin powder and water (10g : 100 L), and allowing them to sit in a plastic bag overnight before planting, farmers can protect their cassava plantations, and investments from the menace of CPD.

Various tests and analyses were conducted to seek out the best anti-CPD treatment available. This research project was funded at 2.9 million pesos, and was done on a national scale. It is quite costly, but the benefits to our farmers, and the growing rootcrop industry seem very well worth it.