Agricultural specialists issued a warning about a fatal banana illness that has been discovered in Tanzania recently. Because infected plants are severely stunted, the viral illness could limit the banana yield by up to 90%.
This is the first time the banana bunchy top illness has been discovered in Tanzania and the East African area, specialists revealed. DNA samples from banana trees in the Buhigwe district, Kigoma, were confirmed to be positive for the Babuvirus (BBTV).
“BBTV or Babuvirus is considered among the most devastating banana viral diseases,” the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) said in a statement yesterday.
The virus is propagated by the banana aphid Pentalonia nigronervosa and farmers spread it further by exchanging contaminated planting material.
Despite the fact that the illness was initially discovered in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1950s, it is the first time it has been found in the EA region.
Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (Tari), the country’s leading agricultural research organisation, described the trend as “concerning”.
Action needed to limit spread of the virus
Conducting extensive surveys to estimate the degree of illness transmission in the country should be among the actions taken. Raising knowledge of disease detection and management techniques among banana producers is also advised. The illness was discovered during normal banana pest and disease assessments, according to Dr Shimwela, the head of banana breeding at Tari.
“As far as we know, this is the first time a banana-infecting virus has been discovered in Tanzania and East Africa.”
The illness originally appeared in Africa in the 1950s in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and has since spread to 15 nations, with the EA area being spared.
In the 1990s, it had a disastrous impact on Malawi’s banana output. It nearly wiped off Australia’s banana industry between 1913 and 1920.
Banana is a major food and economic crop in Tanzania. However, smallholder farmers do not produce it to its full potential. In 2016, 760 000 hectares were under cultivation, with annual production projected at 3.5 million tonnes. The viral illness may be managed by removing diseased mats and replaced with good planting material to restore banana output, according to Shimwela.
Chemical management of aphid vectors is the most prevalent method in the absence of resistant banana types against BBTV.
Another strategy to prevent the virus from spreading is to uproot and kill any affected plants as soon as possible.
Tanzania is one of the top ten banana-producing countries in the world, and the second in Africa after Uganda. Africa produces 17% of the estimated 100 million tonnes of bananas produced worldwide. The sector is valued $28 billion globally.