SHEEMA – Locals in Sheema district are perplexed over the anticipated famine yet to hit the district over the roaming banana diseases that have attacked the district.
Despite the increased banana production, it has continued to fetch low prices as a result of Covid-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) challenges.
Banana diseases attacked their plantations. These diseases include; banana bacteria wilt [BBW], fusarium wilt and banana rust thrips.
David Twinamatsiko, the Sheema District Agriculture Officer (DAO) confirmed that there are several diseases attacking banana plantations but the most appealing one, being the rust thrips that needs serious attention for sustainable economic development and production of bananas within the district.
Twinamatsiko says rust thrips is caused by a fungus called anthracnose which damages bananas getting ready for harvest.
“We are getting concerned about rust thrips that is spreading fast in the district and municipality. It is a combination of two; the thrips and small insects which infest the banana plantation eating up the banana skin and leaving them damaged” Twinamatsiko said.
He explained that the banana fingers become hardened and turn either black or brown a reason as to why it is called brown black rusty thrips.
“The fungus doesn’t get any chance of growing on the undamaged finger but when there is damage then the anthracnose takes the advantage on the banana yield,” said Twinamatsiko.
Twinamatsiko says a total of more than 40 acres of banana plantations have recorded at least one of the above reported diseases since September 2020.
“Actually, this report was made on 10th September 2020 and BBW and fusarium wilt had spread all over but are a bit scanty, the most serious one is the rust thrips and I want to report to you that we are still battling with them in the district,” he emphasized.
Twinamatsiko says the reported intensified banana diseases have paralyzed sub-counties of, Kigarama, Kyangyenyi, Masheruka, Rugarama, Kitagata, then Kakindo town council and Shuuku town council.
He adds that the banana disease burden in Sheema stands at 57.5% out of 47,360 households with a total of about 220,000 people in the district.
“In Kigarama sub-county alone, banana bacteria wilt is at 3%, fusarium wilt at 2% then the rust thrips at 4% rampant in villages of Rwehundo, Nshongi Greater and Nshongi I. Then when you go to Masheruka it has 1% of BBW and fusarium wilt at 0.5% then the rusty thrips at 4% rampant in Bugarama village” said Twinamatsiko.
Denis K. Hanest, the chairperson of Ntegyeza Bitokye and Agricultural Produce Marketing Cooperative Society Ltd, which unites banana farmers in three sub-counties of Kigarama, Kyangyenyi, Masheruka and two town councils of Kakindo and Masheruka town council says the banana diseases have truly affected banana production in the area.
“Currently we cut almost like 100,000 bunches a week but out of that you find that we remove almost 6,000 bunches infected by rust thrips disease,” Hanest explained.
Albert Ahimbisibwe, also owning about 2 acres of banana plantation in Shuuku town council told theCooperator that he started by seeing black bananas in Kabwohe market and he realized that rust thrip was soon encroaching on his banana plantation.
“I first saw most matooke in the market were black; then later after a week, I also realized my bananas changing color in the plantation,” says Ahimbisibwe.
Twinamatsiko says the affected bananas have some side effects on consumption and farmers lose value in terms of low production during the harvest.
“In most households, children have refused to eat matooke, remember it’s Covid-19 time and matooke is in abundancy. As long as it’s damaged by the thrips, if you cook such bananas, they don’t taste normal even the texture of the cooked matooke changes completely,” he explained.
DAO adds that the rust thrip infected bananas are also feared by customers in the markets and people have lost income and food security.
“It would lose color and of course from the outlook, the business people refuse to buy them and it doesn’t attract customers on your stall. Those who have tasted claim that it remains hard and difficult for eating though people have gone ahead to sell them,” Twinamatsiko said.
“People in the district are crying for government support in terms of food security but because our government operates in situations where there is an emergency or a calamity like hailstorm which comes suddenly when people are not prepared,” he adds.
Twinamatsiko says the Ministry of Agriculture officials took samples directly to Kawanda but as a district, they haven’t gotten any agro-chemical solutions from researchers being a new problem in banana production.
“Several reports have been forwarded to our agriculture office which we equally forwarded to the ministry officials. They even came and picked samples when we first saw the symptoms to identify the exact diseases,” he explained.
“There are some agro-chemicals which we could use to kill these insects but the ministry is worried because it has not yet done enough research on the exact chemicals that can be applied to kill the fungus,” Twinamatsiko adds.
He says rust thrips disease has also spread to over 21 districts like Ibanda, Ntungamo, Fort Portal and some parts of Buganda.
However, Twinamatsiko says some cultural practices have helped farmers to avert the spread of banana diseases onto their plantations.
“We are advising them to use cultural practices like keeping the banana plantations weed free, removing the male buds to avoid the attraction of pests, birds and bees that can spread the fungus. We are also telling them to dig the composite pits and as they are decomposing the pests will equally die, “he advised.
Farmers expect quick responses but as a scientist, research findings don’t come out so quickly because it has to be tried several times thus encouraging farmers to be patient,” says Twinamatsiko.
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