In the 1970s the cassava mealybug first threatened to decimate cassava crops throughout sub-Saharan Africa, causing fear of widespread famine. Although cassava (a perennial woody shrub with an edible root) originates from South America, it has been a staple crop in Africa since colonial governments first introduced it to local farmers. Some 300 years later, this hardy crop, which is useful from the leaves to the roots and requires little inputs such as fertilizer, has become a vital source of calories and income for millions of Africans. By the 1980s, the cassava mealybug threatened to wipe out cassava in Africa, which posed a major threat to food security in the region.
In response, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a nonprofit organization founded in 1967, established an Africa-wide Biological Control Center in Nigeria. The IITA, headquartered in Ibadon, Nigeria, also organized a network of international collaborators and sent a group of scientists to Central and South America in search of the pest’s natural enemy. Once they found it–a parasitic wasp (Epidinocarsis Lopezi)–and introduced it into mealybug infested areas under strict controls, the wasp destroyed the mealybug populations, allowing farmers to rehabilitate their crops.