TANZANIA – A new banana illness is threatening one of the nation’s most important staple foods, and experts are working against the clock to avert it.

The disease, also known as Fusarium wilt TR4, was initially discovered in 2013 and is suspected of having a significant negative effect on banana production.

Tanzania, one of Africa’s largest banana producers, and Mozambique are two of the nations targeted in an effort to control the threat.

“We will investigate banana farming systems and the cultivars grown,” said Mr. George Mahuku, an expert leading the research team.

The methods used in the two nations’ banana production would also be examined in order to “find doable risk-reduction strategies.

He made this announcement during a gathering to introduce the three-year programme that will stop the disease’s further spread.

The study tries to limit potential harm that could be done to small farms in addition to reducing hazards.

Despite confirming that it had destroyed substantial crop fields in Mozambique, he did not mention how the fungal illness had affected banana production in Tanzania.

In the country’s northern region (Mozambique), 1,500 acres of Cavendish banana plantations were destroyed in just four years, according to Dr. Mahuku. 

The fungus’s ability to persist in infected fields for decades and difficulties in eradicating it helped it expand internationally.

He claims that the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has provided funding for the research.

An estimated 70–100 million people in East and Central Africa depend on bananas for a living, either directly or indirectly.

Around 2.5 million acres in the area are used to grow the crop, which accounts for 50% of some nations’ entire agricultural output.

According to data from an Australian research organization, the entire region of eastern and central Africa produces bananas worth US$ 4.3 billion annually.

To prevent further spread, the research will look into the threat that TR4 (Fusarium wilt) poses to smallholder banana growers.

The project in Tanzania has enlisted the participation of the Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute and the ministry of agriculture (TARI).

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), through its regional office in Dar es Salaam, is one of the execution agencies.

The research has received positive feedback from banana growers in the Arusha and Kilimanjaro regions, who claim that odd banana diseases have recently affected them.

“We are used to seeing our crops wilting, yet we are not sure how to fight the menace,” one of them Joseph Lema told The Citizen.

He told farm experts who visited his shamba after the project launch that his banana sales have dropped since his crops were attacked by the fungus.

“Due to poor harvests, I am often forced to mow down plantains as livestock fodder because they could not deliver anything,” he said.

According to the data that is currently available, Tanzania grows roughly 3.7 million tonnes of bananas annually on an estimated 403,000 hectares of land.

The most well-known banana-growing areas are Kilimanjaro and Kagera, which together produce over 2.5 million tonnes a year.

Tanzania is the continent’s fourth-largest producer of bananas. Among the other leading producers are Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In the Kagera and Kilimanjaro regions, where they are a staple food for between 75 and 95 percent of the indigenous people, more than 60 percent of bananas are farmed.

Fusarium wilt is a soil-borne pathogen that attacks potato, tomato, eggplant, and pepper plants. Disease fungi (Fusarium oxysporum) enter through the roots and interfere with the water-conducting vessels of the plant. 

As the infection spreads up into the stems and leaves it restricts water flow causing the foliage to wilt and turn yellow.

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