Technoserve partners with Mozambique government to strengthen the banana industry
09-01-2020 07:11:51 | by: Bob Koigi | hits: 4976 | Tags:

Since 2017, TechnoServe has been supporting the banana industry in Mozambique – the first country in Africa to face the devastating Panama Disease that is threatening the global production of bananas.

Mozambique, with its mild tropical climate, fertile soils, and long coastline, has great conditions for growing bananas — a crop that is important for both subsistence and trade.

However, with the outbreak of two devastating diseases, Panama Disease in the north and Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) in the south, Mozambique is facing a major threat to banana production that could spread to the whole continent.

In response, TechnoServe has been working with the Mozambican Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MASA), with funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to strengthen the Mozambican banana industry so that it can contain and control the spread of the diseases.

Following a civil war that ended in the mid-1990s, the production of bananas in Mozambique has increased sixfold, as smallholder farmers returned to their fields and started producing the crop, and large commercial plantations were established.

 In 2017, the country produced approximately 580,000 tons of bananas, 75% of which were produced by smallholder farming households, who grow it as an important source of food and nutrition.

The industry plays an important role in Mozambique’s economy; with roughly 17 commercial banana producers, nearly 20% of the country’s total production is exported, and around 5,000 Mozambicans are directly employed in the sector, while thousands of others are involved in distribution and retail.

In July 2013, Panama Disease was found on the Matanuska farm in northern Mozambique. At its peak, this farm was the largest commercial banana farm in the country, exporting nearly 50,000 tons annually and employing over 2,400 workers.

The farm eventually shut down operations in 2016 due to losses from the outbreak (though it was later purchased and is operating in a limited capacity by Jacaranda Agricultura). Since then, the disease has spread to three other commercial farms in the north.

“Many believe that the [banana] disease’s impact on smallholder farming households could be catastrophic, as it would threaten the livelihoods and food security of local communities,” said Ingrid Sikma, TechnoServe program manager.

Panama Disease is caused by a fungus that prevents the banana plant from receiving nutrition and water, causing the plant to wilt and eventually die. The fungus spreads through contaminated soil, which means it is not only carried by plant material, but also by vehicles, clothes, footwear, and tools. As the fungus stays active in the soil for decades, the disease is nearly impossible to eradicate.

In the south of Mozambique, BBTV was detected in the Gaza province on two separate farms in 2016. Since then, it has spread to other locations, raising alarm that the disease could be eventually affect all farms in the south.

BBTV affects the “bunchy” top leaves of a banana plant, a clear symptom of affected banana plants, which rarely produce bananas or produce stunted bunches. This virus can be transmitted through infected plant suckers and banana aphids. Regular inspection of banana plants for symptoms is important to ensure timely detection of the virus. Infected plants should be destroyed by injecting a pesticide solution into the banana plant that attracts and kills the aphids.