Battle with banana bunchy top disease
In recent years, serious outbreaks of banana bunchy top disease have devastated banana and plantain crops in several central and southern African countries, including Malawi and Zambia. Recently the disease has also spread to southern Cameroon, from where Martha Chindong reports. At a field day organised by IITA, farmers learn about strategies for controlling the disease, such as uprooting and burning of infected plants, and use of disease-resistant planting material. Martha speaks to an agronomist and also to a farmer, to find out more about this disease, which in the last 20 years has become one of the most serious threats to banana production in the region.
Chindong We are in the farmer's field and I'm standing right in front of an infected banana plant. Instead of the leaves growing and spreading out as normal banana leaves, the leaves are growing awkward and stunted. They are forming some sort of a bunch, and this is the bunchy top disease. When it happens the only thing the farmer can do is uproot and destroy the plant. If it affects a whole plantation the farmer is in trouble. I am here with the researcher. He is going to introduce himself and tell us more. You are welcome.
Njukwe Thank you very much. I'm Emmanuel Njukwe of IITA. I'm an agronomist by profession, and with the bunchy Top disease what we are trying to do is introduce varieties that are resistant or tolerant to this disease.
Chindong Yes, we are standing near a plant that has the disease. The plant itself is looking very stunted as compared to this one. I have been told that this one near it is the same age as this one, and this one does not grow well, so it also affects growth.
Njukwe Yes, it affects growth seriously, and of the two plants that we are seeing here, the one that is actually growing well, the planting material was healthy, was clean, but the other one that is infected was planted with infected suckers.
Chindong So how does this disease affect production?
Njukwe At the severe level there is no fruiting at all. Then if it is not severe then you can get some bunches which are very, very small, little, and it can affect the yield up to 40-50 percent.
Chindong When the infected bananas are eaten, does this have any effect on human beings?
Njukwe Well basically we have not carried out any studies on that, but from what we have seen and what we are consuming in the field, farmers have been consuming it and there is no report on their health problem from the infected varieties.
Chindong So how serious is this bunchy top disease a problem in Cameroon?
Njukwe We are now observing it in the southern region, which is now entering Cameroon from Gabon, and the only way to stop it is to prevent movement of planting material from the south going into the centre and the other regions of Cameroon.
Chindong Where is this disease coming from?
Njukwe For the moment we have identified aphids as the only vector which is propagating this disease. The only way to control, there are so many options but the best way is to avoid the aphids to increase in population, because that is the only vector we have noticed so far. And it is spreading. As a virus it is always difficult to control. The only management method is to use clean planting material and to eradicate infected plants.
Chindong The farmer who told me that his farm has been affected up to 50 percent, what can he do in order to stop the spreading of the disease to other healthy plants?
Njukwe Well, as we have been seeing, viruses are really a problem to control. There is no treatment, the only thing we can do is to prevent. So we advise the farmers to eradicate all the infected plants. Burn them up. Then to introduce new varieties, varieties that are tolerant and resistant to diseases.
Chindong What is the strong message you have for farmers in Cameroon and elsewhere?
Njukwe I would just advise farmers to be very vigilant whenever they see any strange symptoms in their field, they should let the phytosanitary agent around their area to be informed, and they should stop using planting materials from neighbours. I would advise them whenever they are getting planting materials from neighbours, they should themselves go to the field and make sure the material they are getting is clean and free from any disease.
Desiree (Vernac) My name is Bambam Mende Joseph Desiree.
Chindong Can you just describe to us what we are seeing in front of us?
Desiree (Vernac) The plant we have before us is a banana plant that is sick and is suffering from the banana bunchy top disease.
Chindong When did you start noticing this type of plant in your plantation?
Desiree (Vernac) Three years ago.
Chindong Did you know that it was really a disease?
Desiree (Vernac) At first we didn't think that it was a disease condition. In fact we took it for granted, and that's why we gave it a nickname. We called it the 'mad banana'.
Chindong When you saw the 'mad banana', what did you do?
Desiree (Vernac) At first we didn't do anything as such, especially as we didn't have many of these kind of plants in our farm. But eventually what we thought we should do was to go ahead and cut down the 'mad banana', if I may use that expression, so that more suckers of that type could come out.
Chindong How is it affecting your production?
Desiree (Vernac) I have more than 20 hectares of banana and plantain here in Abamenko. Generally speaking I used to harvest not less than one pickup of plantain bunches every week. But for quite some time now I've noticed that to fill a pickup, I need to harvest let's say for two good weeks. So effectively we are talking about a drop of 50 percent in production since the disease infected my farm.
Chindong What have you learned from this day today that is going to help you combat the disease?
Desiree (Vernac) There is much that I am going to do. First of all I have taken a firm stand, a firm resolution that I am going to systematically destroy all the diseased plants that I can personally identify the symptoms. I will even go much further, to even burn down such plants. And then of course eventually I will make sure that I control what is getting into my farm, into my plantation. I will make sure that I get clean planting material, that is suckers and plantlets, from a source that is guaranteed.
Chindong Thank you very much for making yourself available.
Desiree Merci. (Thank you) End of track.
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