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Drive to control banana disease before June

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An official working with the program showing buds of non-infected plants to be removed as measure to control MXW. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

A visit to Buvumo cell, Mu­kura sector of Huye dis­trict in the South today, would leave one worried about how local people survive. Two years ago, banana farming was thriving. Today, the main crop has been completely ravaged by a bacterial disease, Banana Xan­thomonas Wilt (BXW).

“I used to get around Frw 35,000 per week from banana pro­duction, but I can’t even get a sin­gle coin since the disease affected and destroyed our plantations,” says Alphonse Nsabimana, one of the local banana farmers.

He says they have been strug­gling since 2007 when the dis­ease appeared in the area, but the situation became worse last year when farms were heavily affect­ed, and totally eradicated.

“We could remove and burry the affected plants in the begin­ning, but new infections persist­ed. We were advised to eradicate all the plants and re-plant new ones after two seasons,” he ex­plains.

In the meantime, Nsabimana and his neighbors planted beans and maize.

The father of five, who used to almost entirely depend on ba­nana farming, points out that the disease left his family struggling to even meet basic needs.

“My family can’t afford mu­tuelle de santé, the children left school and it’s hard to even get daily food,” complains Nsabima­na, who says he has opted to earn his family’s life by carrying bricks at construction sites in the nearest town of Huye, a two-hour walk from his home.

Nsabimana is not the only one to suffer from losing his banana plantation due to the disease. Lo­cal authorities confirm that 132 hectares have been completely ravaged in four cells of the sector.

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Ravaged areas are now used to grow beans and maize before replanting new bananas. (photo Eric Didier Karinganire)

According to statistics revealed by Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), 2,160 hectares of banana farms have so far been affected by the disease. It was observed for the first time in 2005 in Rubavu district, but has since spread and currently affects 24 districts of the country.

Banana remains the main crop both for daily consumption and national economy as it occupies more than 20 per cent of the total cultivated land; hence a need to take care of it.

Innocent Musabyimana, RAB’s deputy director general of agri­culture extension, says they have set a six-month drive to control the banana disease BXW through community mobilization cam­paigns.

“The campaign involves a participatory approach through Farmer Field Schools of 25 to 30 farmers in each group where fa­cilitators make farmers under­stand symptoms of the disease and best practices to contain it,” he explains, adding that they expect to have completely con­tained the disease by June 2013.

The agriculture official was last Friday heading his body’s team, facilitators and partners in a field visit in Huye and Ruhango districts as a part of the commu­nity mobilization which is taking place across the country.

The Belgian Development Agency BTC, through SPAT II program, is a key partner in im­plementation of the control strat­egy. Dr Jean Pierre Busogoro, a technical advisor working with SPAT II program advises to treat any symptom early as a way of containing the disease.

“If not controlled early, the whole plantation ends up de­stroying,” he warns, adding that the disease causes death of the plant and rotting of the fruit bunch.

He explains that the leaves slowly turn yellow and start look­ing lifeless as if they were melt­ing under intense heat. They turn brown and die. Diseased plants can also produce infected suck­ers and these remain a source of infection.

To control the disease, Busogoro explains that they advise farmers to remove all plants where there is a heavy infection (more than 50%) and replant new ones after at least six months, and apply im­mediate control measures in light infected fields. Some of the mea­sures include removing buds of non affected plants, uprooting in­fected plants and bury them, and then disinfect used tools in fire.

All these measures are imple­mented through Farmer Field Schools (FFS). RAB says 94 FFS trained facilitators and 494 co-fa­cilitators are operational country­wide involving more than 27,000 farmers in the BXW control.

In the preventive measures, 3,200 hectares have been reha­bilitated by involving more than 58,000 farmers who are also trained in controlling the disease.

Vincent Nduwumwami, one of the facilitators and farmer of Mu­kura, says they now meet twice a month so that they share experi­ence and take measures on how to control the disease once they will replant new varieties as they faced with a total eradication.

“It should be a good practice to pay a tour visit to your banana field every morning and treat early any noticed symptom,” he learned from experience of the past.

In a move to control the disease and increase banana production, Musabyimana notes that they are trying to introduce new varieties, which can be more resistant, and highly yielding.

“Participatory approach is the best way to go in containing the disease and increasing banana production,” he says. “The dis­ease needs to be eradicated be­cause banana is the main crop for Rwanda’s economy.”

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