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[KINSHASA] Agricultural ministers of the Great Lakes countries — Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda — have agreed to revive the Institute of Agricultural and Zootechnical Research (IRAZ) to better tackle a range of plant and animal diseases.

The institute, based in Lubumbashi, DRC, was established in 1979. But in recent years, countries have not been honouring their funding pledges, citing economic difficulties, according to the DRC's agriculture minister, Norbert Basengezi Katintima.

As a result, there has been no scientific research programme at the institute since 2009.

Now, ministers have agreed to recommence funding to enable the institute to carry out research into crop and animal diseases affecting the region, such as cassava mosaic disease, banana bacterial wilt disease and Newcastle disease — a viral disease that affects poultry.

Cassava mosaic disease is endemic in the Great Lakes countries, causing huge losses to the region's primary source of food and most important cash crop. Banana bacterial wilt disease is also a major problem.

In 2010, in the east of DRC alone, more than 14,000 acres of banana were destroyed by bacterial wilt diseases, and nearly 220,000 tonnes of bananas were lost, according to UN World Food Programme spokesperson Fabienne Pompey.

Marcel Kapambwe, an advisor to the DRC's agricultural ministry, said that, from April, each country will give around US$1.2 million every three years to the institute.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the agricultural ministers of the member countries of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries, in Goma, DRC, in January.

The ministers also set up a steering committee — comprising experts from all three countries — to develop a long-term financing mechanism for the institute. The committee's recommendations will be presented to the permanent office of the secretary of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries shortly.

Kantintima told SciDev.Net that "without agricultural and zootechnical [the technology of animal husbandry] research, agriculture and fishing would be affected and that there would be far less cattle rearing".

At the closing session of the January meeting, Odette Kayitesi, agricultural minister of Burundi, called for more solidarity between the three governments and urged them to make their initial contributions to IRAZ on time.