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May 01, 2009

Uganda suffers big losses from banana wilt

by Edgar Batte & Evelyn Lirri

A new report has warned that Uganda could lose more that half of its banana production in the next 10 years if a deadly wilt disease is not checked.

Uganda has suffered an estimated $2 billion to $8 billion economic loss over the last 10 years to the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) disease, findings of a new study indicate.

The findings published in the May issue of the Plant Disease Journal, which is published by the American Phytopathological Society, estimates a production loss of about 53 per cent in bananas in the country in the next 10 years if the disease is left unchecked.

The study reveals that food security for about 100 million people and income to millions of farmers in the Great Lakes region of East and Central Africa face a great threat from the Banana Xanthomonas Wilt disease.

The disease was first reported in Uganda in 2001 but it has since spread to neighbouring countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi.

“BXW attacks all banana varieties resulting in absolute crop loss in some cases. Its impacts are both extreme and rapid,” said Dr Leena Tripathi, the study’s author and a scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).

The study, titled Xanthomonas Wilt – A threat to Banana Production in East and Central Africa, was jointly undertaken by researchers at IITA and Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).

Dr Robert Karyeija, the head of the task force established to manage the disease at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that the ministry intends to mobilise communities in detection and management of the disease in all the banana growing areas of the country. “The ministry is planning to mobilise political support for funds to drive this campaign,’’ he said.

Karyeija explained that the disease can be contained through improved agricultural practices – planting clean materials, disinfecting farm tools and early removal of male flowers.
“However, once a field is infected, all banana plants should be uprooted and buried and the land left fallow or different crops should be planted for six months,’’ he said.

According to the study, the task force set up by government in 2001 to contain the disease managed to reduce incidence to less than 10 per cent in areas where farmers adopted these measures. However, the implementation is not sustainable due to the high costs.

The Head of the Banana Research NARO, Dr Wilberforce Tushemereirwe said the disease is easy to manage, but farmers have to be sensitised.

The study recommends the use of disease resistant varieties as a cost-effective and sustainable way to manage the disease

The Monitor

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