Let us get bacterial wilt resistant bananas

Wednesday August 3 2016

By Michael J. Ssali

Two weeks ago, we read in this column about what farmers may do to avoid spreading the Banana Bacterial Wilt Disease (BBW), which has greatly hampered banana production in the country.

As many readers could have noticed the measures that were elaborated can only be successfully applied by meticulously careful farmers whom we do not have in large numbers across the banana growing regions. Yet, according to Dr Jerome Kubiriba, the banana programme leader, National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL), the disease has no chemical treatment and the best any farmer can do is uproot and destroy the infected plants. It attacks all types of bananas including those to make beer and juice.

Seventy-five per cent of the banana farmers in Uganda grow the crop for food and income security.

Despite the physical measures used by meticulously careful farmers, BBW continues to spread and the country is likely to lose an estimated $953m annually.

Secondly, if the disease is not brought under control, we will have extreme food shortage especially when it is remembered that Uganda whose population is fast growing has the highest annual consumption of bananas globally at 240 kilogrammes per capita.

The good news, however, is that our agricultural scientists through the use of biotechnology have developed cooking bananas that are completely resistant to BBW.

In the course of this year, the researchers are testing the first generation of BBW-resistant cooking bananas in multi-location field trials across Uganda.

However, before the BBW-resistant bananas are given to the farmers to grow, there must be a regulatory law in place, which has taken rather too long to be passed by parliament.

On World Food Day last year and at the opening of the annual National Agricultural and Trade Show on July 14, President Museveni called upon parliamentarians to pass the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill into law but they are dragging their feet.
In the interest of food security, we should all call upon our MPs to pass the bill.