A visit to Buvumo cell, Mukura sector of Huye district in the South today, would leave one worried about how local people survive. Two years ago, banana farming was thriving. Today, the main crop has been completely ravaged by a bacterial disease, Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW).
"I used to get around Frw 35,000 per week from banana production, but I can't even get a single coin since the disease affected and destroyed our plantations," says Alphonse Nsabimana, one of the local banana farmers.
He says they have been struggling since 2007 when the disease appeared in the area, but the situation became worse last year when farms were heavily affected, and totally eradicated.
"We could remove and burry the affected plants in the beginning, but new infections persisted. We were advised to eradicate all the plants and re-plant new ones after two seasons," he explains.
In the meantime, Nsabimana and his neighbors planted beans and maize.
The father of five, who used to almost entirely depend on banana farming, points out that the disease left his family struggling to even meet basic needs.
"My family can't afford mutuelle de santé, the children left school and it's hard to even get daily food," complains Nsabimana, who says he has opted to earn his family's life by carrying bricks at construction sites in the nearest town of Huye, a two-hour walk from his home.
Nsabimana is not the only one to suffer from losing his banana plantation due to the disease. Local authorities confirm that 132 hectares have been completely ravaged in four cells of the sector.
According to statistics revealed by Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), 2,160 hectares of banana farms have so far been affected by the disease. It was observed for the first time in 2005 in Rubavu district, but has since spread and currently affects 24 districts of the country.
Banana remains the main crop both for daily consumption and national economy as it occupies more than 20 per cent of the total cultivated land; hence a need to take care of it.
Innocent Musabyimana, RAB's deputy director general of agriculture extension, says they have set a six-month drive to control the banana disease BXW through community mobilization campaigns.
"The campaign involves a participatory approach through Farmer Field Schools of 25 to 30 farmers in each group where facilitators make farmers understand symptoms of the disease and best practices to contain it," he explains, adding that they expect to have completely contained the disease by June 2013.
The agriculture official was last Friday heading his body's team, facilitators and partners in a field visit in Huye and Ruhango districts as a part of the community mobilization which is taking place across the country.
The Belgian Development Agency BTC, through SPAT II program, is a key partner in implementation of the control strategy. Dr Jean Pierre Busogoro, a technical advisor working with SPAT II program advises to treat any symptom early as a way of containing the disease.
"If not controlled early, the whole plantation ends up destroying," he warns, adding that the disease causes death of the plant and rotting of the fruit bunch.
He explains that the leaves slowly turn yellow and start looking lifeless as if they were melting under intense heat. They turn brown and die. Diseased plants can also produce infected suckers and these remain a source of infection.
To control the disease, Busogoro explains that they advise farmers to remove all plants where there is a heavy infection (more than 50%) and replant new ones after at least six months, and apply immediate control measures in light infected fields. Some of the measures include removing buds of non affected plants, uprooting infected plants and bury them, and then disinfect used tools in fire.
All these measures are implemented through Farmer Field Schools (FFS). RAB says 94 FFS trained facilitators and 494 co-facilitators are operational countrywide involving more than 27,000 farmers in the BXW control.
In the preventive measures, 3,200 hectares have been rehabilitated by involving more than 58,000 farmers who are also trained in controlling the disease.
Vincent Nduwumwami, one of the facilitators and farmer of Mukura, says they now meet twice a month so that they share experience and take measures on how to control the disease once they will replant new varieties as they faced with a total eradication.
"It should be a good practice to pay a tour visit to your banana field every morning and treat early any noticed symptom," he learned from experience of the past.
In a move to control the disease and increase banana production, Musabyimana notes that they are trying to introduce new varieties, which can be more resistant, and highly yielding.
"Participatory approach is the best way to go in containing the disease and increasing banana production," he says. "The disease needs to be eradicated because banana is the main crop for Rwanda's economy."