Over five years after some serious cases of Banana Bunchy Top disease were initially noticed in Mulanje and Thyolo districts, the disease continues to wipe out large hectarage of the crop.
The situation has raised some questions on the future of the crop and banana business for farmers, sellers and consumers.
An agro-business expert, Brighton Mkakato has warned that the country risks failing into the trap of importing bananas if no measures are quickly put in place to eradicate the disease.
According to statistics from the district agriculture offices in the two districts, over 28,000 households that grow the crop have been affected.
Thyolo District Agriculture Development Officer (Dado), Raphael Mkisi, said about 25,000 households in the district have been affected.
Mkisi said at the time the disease started attacking plants between 2009 and 2010, Thyolo had about 41, 000 banana covered hectares but as of today only 10,000 hectares remain.
“In the affected areas, farmers are uprooting and burning the affected plants while in some areas, the plants are just falling on their own,” Mkisi said.
Mulanje Dado, Enford Kanyimbo, said in the past year alone, yields have been decreased from 47,211 metric tonnes to 35,878 metric tones and the total production has decreased from 297,193 to 221,297 metric tonnes.
Mulanje has over 3,800 households that are actively participating in banana farming.
Kanyimbo said the last hectarage decrease recorded is from 6,295 last year to 6,168 this year.
“Farmers have already uprooted 57 hectares of the affected areas this year alone,” Kanyimbo said.
Mkakato said the Banana Bunchy Top has been on a rampant and has resulted in low supply of bananas in town markets to meet the high demand.
He said the situation has resulted into traders importing bananas from outside the country mainly in Tanzania and Mocambique to meet the existing demand.
“Is this healthy for our economy? Of course, I am not an economist but some of the things that we import from other countries are things that we can produce even remain with a surplus.
“It is a shame for a country which relies on agriculture to be importing raw agricultural products from other countries. As a nation we are blessed with very fertile soils, clean water and many other resources. Sometimes I tend to wonder and ask this question, what wrong did we Malawians do?” Mkakato queried..
Blantyre Agriculture Development Division (ADD) Programme Manager, Martin Kausi, said agricultural officials are doing something about the disease.
“Banana Bunchy Top is a viral disease and the only way is to uproot the affected plants. So, under Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (Aswap) we intend to provide farmers with improved cultivars and assist farmers to uproot the infected bunches,” Kautsi said.
He said farmers who were reluctant to uproot the affected bananas in the past have now seen the impact that the disease can have on their banana plants.
“Farmers thought we were just cheating them but if you go to Thyolo, Mulanje areas where the Bunchy Top is, farmers cannot get any harvest.
We are multiplying materials at Bvumbwe; it is just that farmers have to uproot the affected banana plants and access new materials,” he said.
Mkakato said it is necessary to encourage smallholder farmers to adopt resistant varieties so as to avoid the shame of importing bananas from the neighbouring.
Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) is characterised by the bunched appearance of newly emerging leaves, and dot-dash flecking of leaves and stem sheaths.
Affected plants do not produce fruits.
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