Malawi gov’t blamed on disease wiping out banana production

The Civil Society Agriculture Network (Cisanet) has blamed the Malawi Government of lacking interest to deal with Banana Bunchy Top Disease, a disease which is wiping out banana plants in the country.

The disease which has already wiped out about 60 percent of the crop, according to experts, is also threatening livelihoods of most farmers who are dependent on the crop.

In some districts in Malawi, despite its non-organised cultivation, banana production or marketing is the most important income activity for farmers. The Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2009 estimated that Malawi produced 400,000 tonnes of bananas earning about $95 million.

Researchers warn the banana population could be extinct within a year in Malawi
Researchers warn the banana population could be extinct within a year in Malawi

A 2004 study revealed that 50 percent of farmers’ incomes in Nkhata Bay come from bananas, the second most important crop after cassava. In Mulanje, bananas, the third most important crop there after maize and cassava, contribute 43 percent of farmers’ incomes.

Cisanet, an umbrella body for all civil society organisations working on the agricultural sector, accused government in a statement that although warnings have been raised by experts and also control measures proposed, government has not taken bold decisions and actions to implement the recommendations.

A statement signed by Cisanet board chairman Willie Kalamula and national director Tamani Nkhono-Mvula reads:  “The disease is much spread today because action was not taken when the disease was first discovered.”

The disease was first discovered in central Malawi in 1994 but has since spread from one area to another through the use of diseased planting materials.

Spokesperson in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security Sara Tione is quoted in the local daily The Nation as saying government is encouraging farmers to uproot and burn infected bananas.

“Some farmers are reluctant to uproot and burn the infected (crops) because of the labour implications. We have new cultivars that we are encouraging them to replant but we cannot force them to do that because farmers are knowledgeable and have some indigenous knowledge from which we can learn,” Tione is quoted as saying.

But Cisanet has noted that lack of policing measures, lack of awareness campaigns and poor government funding for the banana programme are the three main gaps in stemming the Banana Bunchy Top Disease.

“Funding for the banana programme has not been forthcoming. In principle there is need for the establishment of the banana programme in the country. Due to lack of funding, the initial selection of planting material was all based on visual symptoms without, any testing, which was also risky,” reads the statement.

Cisanet says it believes the problems rocking the Banana Bunchy Top Disease management programme are surmountable with collective effort and strong political will and leadership from government.

A research scientist based at Bvumbwe Agriculture Research Station Misheck Soko warned recently that at least 60 percent of bananas in Malawi is gone and the remaining 40 percent is infected and will be wiped out.

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