Ugandan banana farmers fend off deadly disease boost yields with UN aid

The spread of banana bacterial wilt (BBW), a bacterial disease that kills off trees and makes their fruit inedible, had caused banana production in the East African nation to plummet around 65 to 80 per cent, according to FAO. “No banana varieties are known to be resistant to the disease and there is no chemical control effective against it, so once it appears it can spread like wildfire,” the agency said in a news release.The disease was first detected in Uganda, where some 14 million people depend on cooking banana as a source of food and income, in 2001. Four years later, it affected 33 districts in the country.To tackle the problem, FAO and Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries began setting up Farmer Field Schools two years ago in five pilot districts, where they taught growers planting and pest control techniques that inhibit the disease’s spread.The results of the effort, aimed at providing local farmers with the information needed to prevent the disease from occurring and spreading, have been “remarkable,” says FAO, noting that the Government estimates the problem is now over 75 per cent contained.“Today you do not find banana wilt disease in any of the districts where the field schools have been established, which were at one time the front line hot spots in this effort,” Wafa Khoury of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division states.“It often takes a hands-on, seeing-is-believing and doing-is-convincing experience to bring them onboard, which is why the farmer field schools have been so successful,” she added.Not only have the field schools taught farmers how to tackle the disease, but they have also dealt with other subjects such as soil fertility, water conservation, sanitation and pruning, which have led to a doubling or tripling of yields in some cases. The pilot projects have been so successful that the Government has announced it will expand the field schools approach across the entire country, and FAO is looking to set up banana field schools in neighbouring Tanzania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which are all also dealing with BBW. 15 September 2008More than 3,000 farmers in Uganda have been able to combat a pestilent disease that threatened to wipe out production of cooking banana, thanks to a joint initiative by the Government and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that also helped them boost their yields of the staple crop. read more