Kagera farmers urged to join SACCOS

Kagera farmers urged to join SACCOS

Kagera Regional Commissioner, Col. (rtd) Fabian Massawe, made the call when he visited Nyakiziba village in Ngara district. He showered praises on farmers who have taken initiatives of modernizing their farming methods by planting improved banana varieties which are resistant to pests and diseases and are drought resistant.

One of the farmers, Udiface Barnabas (26), informed Mr Massawe that he had already planted more than 600 FHIA banana seedlings at his farm. He said a well maintained FHIA banana bunch could weigh between 120-180 kgs compared to traditional banana varieties which yield below 10 kgs.

Mr Massawe encouraged the farmers to add value to their banana crop through packaging. He said this could be realized by forming viable SACCOS. He said SACCOS would also save them from exploitation by middlemen. The National Co-ordinator of Banana Project, Mr Mugenzi Byabachwezi, said a total of 2,037,220 improved banana seedlings were distributed to farmers in Kagera region and Kibondo district, respectively, during a four-year period.

He said the banana project was being implemented by the Tanzania government in collaboration with the Kingdom of Belgium through the Belgium Technical Cooperation (BTC). According to Mr Byabachwezi, BTC had donated a total of 1,350,000 Euros, approx 2.362bn/- while the Tanzania Government donated 150,000 Euros , approx 262.5m/-.

Mr Byabachwezi cautioned farmers on proper management of their banana plantations, saying there was still no cure for the deadly Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) disease locally known as “Unyanjano.” He refuted press reports that a cure for BXW had been found. He said BXW was a major threat to the banana industry in Eastern Africa and the Great Lakes Region.

He advised the farmers to uproot and destroy banana varieties which showed signs of BXW. He also advised them to sterilize their tools using JIK. Special care should also be taken by transporters who buy bananas from farmers, because they could easily transmit BXW to areas where the disease was yet to be reported.

Eight districts in Kagera Region have been hit by the destructive Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), also known as Banana Bacterial Wilt (BBW) disease. Almost 90 per cent of the entire crop is at risk of destruction. Available data indicate that Kagera Region has annual yield of about 650,000 tonnes of banana.

Banana is an economic backbone of Kagera residents, comprising over 2.2 million people. The situation has caused panic among farmers and residents in the region who depend on banana as their main staple and cash crop. BXW is a bacterial disease that causes yellowing and wilting of the leaves, uneven and premature ripening of the fruits and eventually the plants rot and die. BXW is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris and affects all types of banana.

“The deadly BXW has now spread to Eastern Africa and the Great Lake Region. It cannot be controlled by one ministry. Joint effort was needed from all stakeholders in agriculture. Policy makers should put more emphasis on mass mobilization to control spread of the disease.

Other banana growing areas include Arusha, Mbeya, Morogoro and Kilimanjaro regions where BXW has not been reported yet and should now streamline surveillance,” he said. Mr Byabachwezi who has been conducting research on banana since 1992, said policy makers and researchers from Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda and Zambia met in Kigali from January 25 to 29, last year, to be trained in disease surveillance and control methods.

“These countries have either reported the presence of BXW or are at high risk of contracting it from a neighbour,” he said. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for a global map of banana and plantain diseases to stem crop damage to the crops, that could reach US 4 billion dollars by next year.

The agency says that as well as Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) and Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTP)-which threaten the food security of 70 million people in Sub-Saharan African –two other diseases, Black Leaf Streak (BLS) and Fusarium Wilt also known as Panama disease are spreading at an alarming rate. In a recent report presented at the Fourth Session of the Sub-Group on Bananas in Rome, the FAO called for more resources to be invested in global disease map.

“All four diseases merit far greater investment in public awareness, basic and applied research, and farmer training and production services to growers, “it noted. Mrt Hein Bouwmeester, a researcher at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, explained that to create a global disease map researchers must locate banana and plantain production areas, define diseases they are looking for and systematically sample crops for the diseases or use existing information.

Other activities such as monitoring spread to non-affected areas and creating buffer zones can then follow. The process is time-consuming and expensive,”he said. At a meeting held in Tanzania in September, last year, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research recommended that farmers excavate diseased banana fields and burn the plants or treat them with pesticides.

On the positive side, the FAO notes that the market for bananas is expected to hold up well during the current economic crisis. It predicts that global imports will drop slightly to 13.8 million tonnes this year, just three per cent less than in 2007.

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