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Improvement of coffee production in Africa by the control of Coffee Wilt Disease (Tracheomycosis)


Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), European Union, and co-financing/counterpart contributions from national programmes


International Coffee Organization (ICO) (Supervisory Body), CIRAD, IRAD (Cameroon), Centre National de Recherche (Cote d'Ivoire), Office National du Café (DRC), EARO (Ethiopia), Institut des Sciences Agronomiques du Rwande (Rwanda), Lyamungu Agricultural Research and Training Institute (Tanzania), National Agricultural Research Organization (Uganda)

Project Description

Ascospores of Fusarium xylaroides

Problem/Issue. Eastern and Central Africa is witnessing the re-emergence and spread of a major coffee disease, Coffee Wilt, aka Tracheomycosis. This disease was first observed in 1927 in the Central African Republic on Coffea excelsa and the pathogen identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, formerly Zaire) in 1948; the disease was successfully controlled in the 1940s and 1950s. Within the last six years it has increased its incidence considerably. Dr Julie Flood from CABI Bioscience carried out surveys of the status of coffee wilt in DRC and Uganda in 1996/97. Coffee is Uganda’s premier export, accounting for up to 55% of the countries foreign exchange but 70% of the coffee growing areas are now affected by coffee wilt and production has declined from 4.4 million bags in 1996-97 to 3.6 million bags in 1997-98 (latest data available). The coffee industry in Uganda employs more than 2.5 million people and it has been estimated that coffee households are facing a reduction in third of their income due to this disease. Coffee wilt continues to cause severe damage to robusta coffee in DRC.

Defoliation caused by Coffee Wilt Disease

The disease has also reported to be on the borders of Rwanda and Tanzania. If left unchecked, it poses a profound threat to coffee production throughout East Africa. The biology of the causal agent (Gibberella xylarioides) is poorly understood. An international workshop lead by Dr Flood was held in Uganda in 1997, leading to the development of a regional project for research on the control of Tracheomycosis, involving DRC, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The project is being funded by the Common Fund for Commodities, with co-financing from the European Union, national programmes and bilateral agencies such as DFID (Department for Intenarnational Development). It is being set up and co-ordinated by CABI Bioscience on behalf of the International Coffee Organization.

Measures to Date. It has been difficult to provide rational control solutions to the disease as detailed knowledge of the epidemiology and variability of the pathogen is not available, and even the basic biology of the fungus such as its survival in soil, or in seed, is unknown. Current recommendations for control of the disease come from previous studies, and include:

  • Phytosanitation practices to limit the source of inoculum which are assumed to be infected trees, which involves uprooting and burning them on the spot;
  • There are no biological control methods available, and chemical control is likely to be ineffective due to the vascular nature of the pathogen;
  • Several authors have reported varietal differences in resistance to the pathogen, and suggested the use of resistant varieties as a means of control, but this requires further investigation. Not least is the concern that resistant varieties developed in one part of the region may be ineffective in other parts of the region.

Project Activities. As well as managing and co-ordinating this multi-country project, CABI Bioscience's key roles will be:

  • To provide technical inputs into uptodate surveys;
  • To identify socio-economic or technical constraints to improvement of coffee management;
  • To develop molecular fingerprinting techniques to aid epidemiological studies in collaboration with PIs;
  • Basic biological studies in the field to evaluate the spread of the pathogen and its survival;
  • Large input into extension, information dissemination and training for extension workers and small farmers throughout the 5 year Project.

This project seeks to control the spread of the disease, which, if left unchecked, kills the coffee tree leaving small holders without any source of income. The project will research reasons for the re-emergence of the disease after successful control in the past and this should enable the existing control measures to be improved. The project will contain the resurgence by implementing a regional programme to develop improved management practices and developing a compatible programme of extension, information dissemination and training for small coffee producers.

Achievements So Far

A Knowledge Review and Launching Workshop was held at CABI African Regional Centre in Nairobi on the 15th and 16th February 2001. Forty-five participants, drawn from all 7 collaborating countries, as well as the CFC, CABI, CIRAD, ICO, IACO, EU, ASARECA and IPGRI attended the workshop. The workshop report is available as a PDF file.

The workshop provided a unique opportunity for the different collaborators and other stakeholders to meet and exchange ideas. At this meeting, the multi-funded status of the Regional Coffee Wilt Programme was discussed and it was agreed that the programme be divided into separately funded but inter-linked complementary projects. The projects were identified as follows:

Project 1: Surveys to assess the extent and impact in coffee wilt disease in Eastern and Central Africa

Donor: EU (EDF) through CORNET
Partners: CORI (Uganda), TACRI (Tanzania), ISAR (Rwanda), EARO (Ethiopia), CABI and CIRAD.


  • To gather baseline information on environmental, physical and agronomic parameters affecting coffee wilt disease incidence and severity (Biological survey)
  • To identify socio-economic factors influencing the occurrence, impact and management of coffee wilt disease (Socio-economic survey)

Project 2: Development of a strategy based on genetic resistance & agronomical approaches to manage coffee wilt disease

Donor: EU (INCO-DEV)
Partners: CORI, ONC (DRC), CIRAD, CABI, and University of Louvain (Belgium)


  • To collect, identify and establish pathogen variability of CWD
  • To screen for resistance
  • To conduct pre-breeding studies
  • To conduct field epidemiology studies
  • To coordinate research activities

Project 3: Epidemiology and variability of Gibberella xylarioides, the coffee wilt disease pathogen

Donor: DfID


  • To collect, identify and establish genetic variability of CWD
  • To conduct field epidemiology studies
  • To screen for resistance
  • To formulate rational CWD control methods
  • To coordinate research activities

Project 4: Training of farmers and extension officers and dissemination of research findings on the management of coffee wilt disease

Donor: CFC


  • To train farmers on better practices of CWD management
  • To train extension workers on better practices of CWD management
  • To package and disseminate research findings

Additionally, the workshop covered:

  1. Detailed Year 1 workplans and budgets of the collaborating countries were discussed and agreed
  2. Roles of participating regional and international organisations (ICO, EU, IACO, ACRN, ASARECA, CORNET) were explained
  3. Administrative and Financial Procedures were explained to collaborating National Programmes

In June 2001, a workshop to harmonise the methodologies for conducting the biological and socio-economic surveys in East and Central Africa was held in Mukono, Uganda. Participants at the workshop included Mr Yves Gillet (EU, Kampala), Dr John Aluma (DDG NARO, Uganda), the programme coordinator, scientists from CABI, CIRAD, University of Makerere (Uganda), Uganda Coffee Development Authority (Uganda), Ministry of Agriculture (Uganda), CORI (Uganda), EARO (Ethiopia), TACRI (Tanzania), ISAR (Rwanda). A representative from ONC (DRC) was invited but could not attend due to immigration difficulties. At the workshop data sheets and questionnaires were developed and agreed upon.

During the remainder of 2001, participating countries were encouraged to meet outstanding pre-disbursement criteria (with some success). Securing financing/release of funds to conduct biological and socio-economic surveys to establish the extent, severity and impact of the coffee wilt disease was also pursued.

Finally (under CFC financed activities of training of farmers and extension officers and dissemination of research findings on the management of coffee wilt disease), CABI has started to identify suitable farmer groups and locations where extension staff will be trained in DRC, Uganda and Tanzania (countries which have already met, or are almost meeting, the donor conditions).

The final contract for the EU INCO-DEV, 5th Framework funded project (Development of strategy based on genetic resistance & agronomical approaches to manage coffee wilt) was signed between EU (INCO-DEV), CIRAD, CABI, NARO (Uganda), University of Kinshasa (DRC) and University of Louvain (Belgium) on 29th August 2001. The inauguration of this project took place in Uganda between 3rd and 8th March 2002, where workplans were finalised and a disease identification workshop was held by CABI staff.

What Next

Negotiations will continue with DFID regarding the funding of Project 3 of the Regional Coffee Wilt Programme. Release of funding for Project 1 of the Regional Programme (to be funded by the EU (EDF) through the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in East and Central Africa (ASARECA)) is expected shortly.

Initial survey work will commence in certain countries during 2002, and the dissemination of existing best practice control methodologies for Coffee Wilt Disease will commence by CABBI farmer training staff in DRC, Uganda and Tanzania.

Sarah Simons (CABI-ARC) s.simons@cabi.org
Dr. G Oduor (CABI-ARC, Co-ordinator) g.oduor@cabi.org
Dr.Julie Flood (CABI-UK, Senior Scientist) j.flood@cabi.org
Simon Lea (CABI-UKC, Administrator) s.lea@cabi.org

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Contact CABI Commodities:
CABI Commodities Coffee Co-ordinator - Dr. Peter Baker - p.baker@cabi.org
CABI Commodities Cocoa Co-ordinator - Dr. J. Flood - j.flood@cabi.org
CABI Commodities Project Administrator - cabi-commodities@cabi.org