Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda on Wednesday launched the national distribution of clean banana materials to farmers in the country.
This has been done as a way of addressing banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) which spread across all the country’s banana major production areas in 2008 and has been forcing farmers to suffer heavy losses over the years.
Speaking during the launch at Namazuma Village in the area of Senior Chief Mabuka in Mulanje District, which is under Blantyre Agricultural Development Division (ADD), Chaponda encouraged farmers who have not yet uprooted and destroyed their infected banana plants to do so if they are to benefit from the distribution which is being piloted in Thyolo and Mulanje. It will spread to other districts in the near future.
“Government is committed to growing different varieties of crops including bananas which have been growing on over 25 000 hectares across the country. Unfortunately, over the years Banana Bunchy Top Virus attack ed these bananas thereby reducing production to only12 000 hectares.
“So today I am here to tell farmers and seek their cooperation that they should uproot the infected banana plants and we are going to supply them with clean planting materials,” said Chaponda.
In an interview, national research coordinator for horticulture in the Department of Agriculture Research Services, Felix Chipojola, said government intends to revamp the banana industry by importing clean banana planting materials.
Currently, government has imported plantlets from Duroi Laboratory in South Africa and Vitropic Laboratory in France.
“We ordered over 30 000 plantlets which are being hardened at Bvumbwe Agriculture Research Station and now we have started, together with the department of crops and extension, distributing the plants to farmers to rejuvenate their orchards.
“Now, the essence is, these are clean planting materials but if farmers want to mantain the cleanliness, then make sure they plant them where there are no bananas and farmers were advised to uproot all bananas from their orchards,” said Chipojola.
Patrick Masipidi, representative of the farmers in Mulanje, speaking at the ceremony, commended the Ministry of Agriculture for the new banana planting materials, saying many farmers were hesitant when they were told to uproot and destroy their infected plants because they were not sure government would indeed supply them with new plants.
Only farmers who have shown compliance to uproot and destroy infected banana plants and their areas have been verified clean are eligible to receive the new and clean banana planting materials, according to the Ministry of Agriculture.
Production of bananas in the country is mostly done by smallholder farmers with Mulanje, Thyolo, Nkhata Bay and Karonga as traditional growing districts. In these districts, bananas form a major part of the diet. However, the crop is also grown in all other districts but planted unsystematically in clusters or along garden boundaries and around homesteads.
BBTV—first noted in Malawi around Thiwi area in Nkhotakota in 1994 but confirmed in 1997— is caused by a virus which is spread by an aphid called pentalonia negronervosa.