22 January 2003

Uganda: Banana Risks Extinction

Kampala — COCKTAILS of devastating diseases and declining soil fertility have caused major banana varieties to become extinct in several parts of the country, reports Patrick Luganda.

Leading banana scientists are of the opinion that the varieties, which are of major economic and food security value are likely to be wiped out throughout the country in a few years' time.

The central and eastern parts of the country are the worst hit, with most soils in the region unable to sustain banana plantations beyond two to three years. The country is now heavily dependent on the South Western region for the supply of bananas but there are fears that the region will not be able to feed the rest of the country much longer.

Dr. Wilberforce Tushemereirwe, the head of the national Banana Programme, said the banana varieties that are facing extinction are all attacked by the Panama disease also known as the Fusarium Wilt disease. It is a soil borne fungal disease with no known cure.

The varieties affected are exotic and include Gros Michel (Bogoya), Ney Poovan or apple banana (Sukaali Ndiizi), Pisang Awak (Kayinja) and another Ney Poovan variety known as Kisubi.

The indigenous banana matooke, though not affected by the Panama diseases is grossly affected by the Black Sigatoka disease that is prevalent in all parts of the country.

This air-borne fungal disease is most serious in the central region where it causes progressive reduction in yields exceeding 50%.

Of more concern is the banana bacterial wilt that has affected Mukono and Kayunga districts and caused panic in the research community because the disease destroys all types of bananas.

"This situation is very serious. We have not identified a single banana variety that is resistant to the bacterial wilt. We have just started doing some work. We want to know how it spreads and what other plants it affects," Tushemereirwe said.

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