18 March 2013

Tanzania: Disease Threatens Banana Production

Bukoba — ALL seven Districts in Bukoba, Biharamulo, Muleba, Karagwe, Ngara, Kyerwa and Misenyi districts have been directed to set up by-laws in controlling the destructive Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), also known as Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW).

The situation had caused panic among farmers and residents in the region who depend on banana as their main staple and cash crop. Seven districts in Kagera region have confirmed to have been hit by the disease. Almost 90 per cent of the entire crop is at risk of destruction.

Available data indicate that Kagera region has an annual yield of about 650,000 tonnes of banana. Banana is an economic backbone of Kagera residents, comprising over 2.2 million people.

Deputy Minister for Agriculture, Food Security and Cooperatives, Adam Malima, told Parliament recently that BXW had also been reported in other banana growing areas including Tarime district in Mara region, Ukerewe district in Mwanza region and Kibondo district in Kigoma region.

BXW is a bacterial disease that causes yellowing and wilting of the leaves, uneven and premature ripening of the fruits and eventually the plants rot and die. BXW is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris and affects all types of banana.

Mr Mugenzi Byabachwezi, a researcher with the Belgian Technical Co-operation (BTC) based at Maruku Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) in Bukoba Rural District, told this newspaper that urgent joint action was needed to stem further damage.

"The deadly BXW has now spread to Eastern Africa and the Great Lake Region. It cannot be controlled by one ministry. Joint effort was needed from all stakeholders in agriculture. Policy makers should put more emphasis on mass mobilization to control spread of the disease.

Other banana growing areas include Arusha, Mbeya, Morogoro and Kilimanjaro regions where BXW has not been reported yet and should now streamline surveillance," he said.

Mr Byabachwezi who has been conducting research on banana since 1992, said policy makers and researchers from Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia met in Kigali from January 25 to 29 last year to be trained in disease surveillance and control methods.

"These countries have either reported the presence of BXW or are at high risk of contracting it from a neighbouring country," he said. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for a global map of banana and plantain diseases to stem crop damage to the crops, which could reach US 4 billion dollars by next year.

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