In Malawi, the greatest potential for sustainable growth lies in the agricultural sector. Hitherto, it is this sector where poverty is most widespread because the majority are small-scale farmers who living in rural areas.
There are over 100 000 smallholder farmers that are involved in banana production. In the Northern Region, mainly Songwe and Misuku hills, bananas are considered a staple food where as in the Southern Region bananas are produced in the Thyolo and Mulanje districts for commercial purposes.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the total production of bananas is estimated to be between 93 000 and 200 000 per year.
Recently, banana production has been declining due to a number of factors namely lack of storage facilities, poor road infrastructure which has made marketing difficult and the banana bunchy top disease as the root cause.
The decline in banana production has seen middlemen seeking alternatives from neighbouring countries.
Before I proceed, what is this banana bunchy top?
Bunchy top is a disease which is caused by a virus called Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV). This disease was first noticed in the Northern Region and has spread to all regions. BBTV is characterised by the bunched appearance of newly emerging leaves and dot-dash flecking of leaves and stem sheaths.
The disease has been rampant resulting in low supply of bananas in town markets to meet the high demand. This has resulted to traders importing bananas from outside the country mainly in Tanzania and Mozambique to support the existing demand. Really? Is this healthy for our economy?
I am not an economist, but some of the things that we import from other countries are things we can produce and even remain with a surplus.
But where are things really going wrong? Don’t we have extension workers across the country? What is the government doing to sensitise the farmers of Banana so that the disease can be eradicated?
Well 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. Some time I wonder and ask this question: what wrong did we Malawians do?
In one of his many appearances on radio programmes, economist Henry Kachaje was also expressing his concern on this pandemonium of importing bananas from Tanzania. You mean as a nation we cannot produce the required scale to meet our local demand? That remains food for thought.
In my research which I carried out when assessing the efficiency of banana market systems in Masambanjati Extension Planning Area (EPA), it was noted that most farmers lose large amounts of bananas as a result of storage because they are perishable and cannot be stored for long.
Introduction of cold chains would prove to be vital in reducing these banana spoilages. A cold chain is a logistic system that provides a series of facilities for maintaining ideal storage conditions for perishing products from the farm level to the point of consumption. A well-organised cold chain reduces spoilage, retains the quality of the harvested products and guarantees a cost efficient delivery to the consumer given adequate attention for customer service.
In an experiment carried out at Mkondezi in Nkhata Bay, researchers found out that some varieties are resistant to BBT disease than others. It is therefore necessary to encourage smallholder farmers to adopt these resistant varieties so as to avoid this shame of importing bananas from our neighbours. n