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Notes to broadcasters on bacterial wilt :

Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), also referred to as bacterial wilt or banana wilt, was first identified 40 years ago in Ethiopia. It is now common in key banana-growing countries, including Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. The disease kills banana plants and spreads easily via insects, infected tools and through planting infected suckers. Infected plants and plant parts should be destroyed. BXW is a real threat to banana production.

Scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, or IITA, have successfully transferred proteins from the green pepper plant into banana in a search for resistance to bacterial wilt. Dr. Leena Tripathi is research head at IITA. She says, “The Hrap and Pflp genes work by rapidly killing the cells that come into contact with the disease-spreading bacteria, essentially blocking it from spreading any further.” Transformed bananas, infused with Pflp or Hrap proteins, have shown strong resistance to BXW in the laboratory and in screenhouses, according to IITA.

This kind of genetic modification is a controversial topic. Those in favour claim it is a vital tool to secure food for future populations, and that there is little risk to human health. Those against genetic modification of plants state that the risks are unknown, that modified plants are a threat to the environment, that viable alternatives exist, and that research funds should be used in other ways.  Opponents of genetically modified crops often see the biotechnology industry as a threat to food sovereignty.  For more information on genetic modification, refer to Notes to broadcasters on GMOs from 2009 at http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/02/23/notes-to-broadcasters-on-gmos-2/ [1].

Extensive information on Banana Xanthomonas wilt can be accessed here: http://platforms.inibap.org/xanthomonaswilt/ [2]

This poster gives brief, clear information on bacterial wilt, together with photos and advice to farmers on how to control it: http://www.cialca.org/files/files/extension_materials/bxw_english.pdf [3]

Farm Radio Weekly has reported on banana diseases before. From Uganda, this story relates Mary Kibutayi’s experience in controlling the disease:

Cassava stems are a simple solution to devastating banana diseases [4]. Issue 81, September 2009.

This story relates how farmers have used mobile phones to access information about banana diseases:

Text messages are new weapon in fight against banana disease. [5]Issue 62, April 2009.

These Farm Radio International scripts describe what farmers can do to avoid the disease:

Farmers Try to Beat a Virulent Disease [6].Package 81, Script 6, August 2007

Recommendations for managing bacterial wilt in bananas for Eastern Africa [7]. Package 71, Script 2, June 2004

If you broadcast to an area where banana diseases are common, you might consider preparing a call-in or text-in show to get reactions to the claim that a genetically modified banana may be the solution to banana Xanthomonas wilt disease. Here are some suggested questions to get the discussion going:

-To what degree have farmers been affected by wilt? How have they coped with it? Have they managed to control it? How?

-Do farmers and/or extension staff welcome a genetically modified crop as the answer to this disease? Are they aware of the discussions surrounding genetically modified plants? Where do they get their information on genetically modified plants?