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Banana farmers count losses as strange disease rages on

Farmers in Western Uganda are counting their losses in the wake of a ‘strange’ banana disease that has ravaged plantations in the region for months now.

The disease, which has been attributed to banana rust thrips, leads to discolouration of the fruit peel from green to rusty brown or purplish in colour. 

Although the disease does not seem to affect the fruit pulp which remains edible, customers are often unwilling to buy the discoloured bananas, leaving farmers stranded with unwanted produce.

“When people look at such a diseased banana, they assume that it is unsafe for human consumption,” says Samson Baguma, one of the affected farmers in Rwentobo-Rwahi town council.

Peace Kaconco, a banana farmer from Rubaare, lamented, “We are stuck with bunches of banana that have turned brown. No one will buy them, no matter their size.” 

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Francis Turyaheebwa, the Chairman LC 2 Kigaaga parish in Mwizi Sub County is worried that, unchecked, the disease could threaten households’ food security and ability to generate incomes. 

“In this area we are highly dependent on production and sale of matooke (bananas). If this epidemic continues we are likely to lose both food and income,” he warned.

Some farmers even reported that their income from banana sales has been so affected by the outbreak that they have opted for soft loans to pay their children’s school fees for the recently started first school term.

Mounting frustration

Meanwhile, frustration is mounting among farmers in western Uganda over what many perceive as government’s inadequate response to the outbreak that is ravaging plantations in several districts and threatening the livelihoods of thousands.

For instance, Jotham Kyomukama a local politician in Mwizi sub-county blames the sluggish official response on incompetence. 

“The fact that this disease is spreading so rapidly from one district to another shows how incompetent some government workers are. By now extension workers and agricultural officers should have intervened,” he said.

Residents in Rwampara confirmed to theCooperator that relevant authorities had not yet intervened on this issue despite being notified.

Preventive measures

However, district officials have advised farmers to destroy affected plants in order to control the spread of the disease. Albert Mugabe the Ntungamo District Production Officer told journalists that the extension workers have been tasked to move from farm to farm and help farmers properly dispose of the affected plants as more interventions are sought.

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