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Malawi importing 20,000mt bananas

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Tamani Nkhono Mvula

Minister of Agriculture Lobin Lowe has disclosed that Malawi is importing about 20,000 metric tonnes (mt) of bananas from East Africa per year owing to an outbreak of the Bunchy Top disease in recent years.

The disease, according to Lowe, affected banana production in districts such as Nkhata Bay, Phalombe, Thyolo and the Shire Valley such that Malawi turned to countries like Tanzania for the supply of bananas.

Lowe was speaking at Luchenza on Monday during a development rally addressed by President Lazarus Chakwera.

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He said his ministry has, however, embarked on an initiative to produce more disease-resistant banana suckers to distribute to farmers in order to avert the situation, which agriculture analyst Tamani Nkhono Mvula has said stands to strain the country’s forex resources.

“Districts like Thyolo used to supply cities like Lilongwe with bananas. It’s no longer the case because of the disease outbreak; we are receiving over 20,000mt of bananas from Tanzania, that alone is a sigh that bananas have a market in Malawi. The Ministry is encouraging farmers to uproot all affected plants and bring in new suckers,” Lowe said.

He then disclosed that through the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (ASWAP), the agriculture ministry is providing banana suckers on loan to middle-income farmers who are able to pass on to other farmers.

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“The Aswap has proved to be beneficial, for instance we gave 200 suckers to one woman farmer who was able to give us back about 700 suckers. Her field has in the last year produced up to 6,000 suckers which are benefitting other farmers as well,” Lowe said.

But Mvula has decried the development saying it is not just unfortunate but also it does not reflect well on a country whose economy depends on agriculture.

He also faulted farmers’ resistance to uproot the bananas and free the fields for over a year ahead of a fresh start as recommended; saying that has pushed Malawi backwards in terms of banana production.

“The Banana Bunchy Top disease wiped out almost all banana fields especially in the Shire Highlands. It broke out in the 90s. what needs to happen is that all banana plants ought to be taken off and the land has to be furrow for about two years and then start planting the new crop but farmers have been unwilling to do that, and that has caused a number of challenges,” Mvula said.

Mvula has challenged government to devise programmes that will encourage farmers to clear their fields and go for disease resistant banana varieties, so the country becomes sufficient in terms of banana production.

Statistics show that Malawi has lately lost 30,000 hectares of bananas due to poor agriculture practices, diseases and lack of access to clean planting materials.

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