Malawi’s notorious obsession with imports including bananas has irked Minister of Finance Economic Planning and Development Goodall Gondwe who said government wants such imports to stop.
Last year, farmers suffered huge losses due to banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) which invaded all of the major banana production areas.
These losses meant that Malawi has had to import bananas from Mozambique and Tanzania to meet the country’s demand for this important food crop, which is one of the most affordable fruits in the country.
BBTV is one of the most serious diseases which diminishes banana quality and quantity. The disease first emerged in Nkhata Bay several years ago, but was not successfully contained and it has now spread to many parts of the country including Mulanje and Thyolo, the bedrock of banana production.
The importation of Mozambican and Tanzanian bananas has lately been a talking point for other Malawians who complain that the country is wasting its scarce foreign exchange earnings through the odd importation of locally-available stuff such as tomatoes, oranges, beef, milk, chickens and eggs.
Imported bananas have also pushed up the price of the commodity. A bunch of banana which was being sold last year at K1 500 is now going at K2 500 making it very exorbitant for the poor to afford.
But joining in the debate in an interview on Wednesday.
Gondwe said government has set aside resources to be used to buy banana suckers for replanting in all the areas where the crop was decimated by the deadly disease.
Without disclosing how much has been allocated to the cause, Gondwe said these resources will be made available to the Ministry of Agriculture to start buying suckers for replanting soon.
He said suckers will be planted in the banana growing districts of Thyolo, Mulanje, Nkhata Bay and Karonga.
Said Gondwe: ”Importation of bananas must end this year. We have started distributing suckers to our farmers after we asked them to uproot the entire crop that was attacked by the disease. I cannot tell you how much we have, but the Minister of Agriculture [Irrigation and Water Development] will be able to tell you.”
Gondwe was upbeat that by replacing the old crop with new suckers, Malawi will solve the shortage of bananas on the market and end imports which are a drain on forex.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development George Chaponda confirmed that government is distributing suckers and that the problem of importing bananas will end soon.
Meanwhile, the Malawi National Biosafety Regulatory Committee (NBRC) on February 26 2016 approved confined field trials for genetically modified (GMO) bananas.
The confined field trials will be conducted by Bvumbwe Research Station for three years, from this year to 2018.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture officials, transgenic banana planting materials will be introduced from Australia, and tested in the CFTs for resistance against bunchy top virus.