Forty-five thousand hectares of banana fields have been attacked by the banana bunchy top disease.
The spread to 26 districts across the country has significantly reduced income levels of farmers who depend on banana production for their livelihood, The Nation has established.
This was revealed in a survey conducted by plant pathologist Misheck Soko in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Queensland University of Technology.
Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Allan Chiyembekeza confirmed the endemic, but said the ministry has already put in place necessary measures to deal with the disease once and for all.
He said: “Yes my ministry is aware of the disease and we have set aside special funds for this project.”
According to the report, banana bunchy top disease (BBTD) is caused by banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) which is spread by an aphid (Pentalonianegronervosa) while significant spread from one area to another is through the use of diseased planting materials.
BBTD was first noted in Malawi around Thiwi area in Nkhotakota in 1994 but confirmed in 1997. Since then, the disease has spread nationwide, except Chitipa and Karonga districts and has wiped out 95 percent of Cavendish (Williams/Mulanje varieties) banana plantations in Nkhotakota and Nkhata Bay districts, and over 90 percent in Thyolo and Mulanje which are major banana production areas.
Reads the report: “Over 95 percent of the currently standing mats in the country are of the ABB genotype [Harare and Zambia]. Since they still suffer from the disease and are usually neglected due to their low economic value, they remain a threat to any new initiatives to establish new plantations.”
Soko said the disease has continued to spread due to resistance by farmers to uproot their infected mats.
He said: “Government has allocated funds to try to bring back bananas through multiplying clean planting materials.”