1. Uganda: Cassava stems are a simple solution to devastating banana diseases (by Sawa Pius, for Farm Radio Weekly, in Kampala, Uganda)

| September 21, 2009

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Today, Mary Kibutayi boasts four hectares of healthy, disease free bananas. But it wasn’t always this way. Banana bacterial wilt and banana bunchy top disease have spread rapidly through Uganda. Ms. Kibutayi’s district of Mbale, in eastern Uganda, was no exception.

Farmers did not know how the diseases were spreading. They thought it might be witchcraft. But, in fact, farmers were unknowingly spreading the diseases by using the same tools to cut diseased banana trees and prune healthy ones. By learning the cause of the diseases and a simple way to manage them, farmers in Mbale have recovered their staple crop.

In order to stop banana disease, it is important to remove the male bud from the plant. This is because the male bud attracts bees and flies that spread disease. The safest, cheapest, and most successful method of doing this is very low tech. All a farmer needs is a forked, dry cassava stem. Every homestead in Uganda grows cassava, so getting stems is no problem.

Ms. Kibutayi explains that she learned to count bud clusters while they are young. She removes the male buds immediately after the last one is formed. The male bud is held with a forked cassava stem, and then twisted until it breaks off.

Sap is another culprit in spreading banana disease. But the dry cassava stem used for male bud removal does not come in contact with sap. Therefore, one stem can be used for the whole garden. This method has registered tremendous results in Mbale District.

Apart from using the dry forked cassava stem, farmers have learned other methods of managing banana disease. They destroy sick plants by chopping and sun drying both the mother stem and the suckers. New banana trees are planted with clean suckers and tools. Any tools used to cut sick bananas must be sterilized. This can be done with bleach, or by heating the tools in a fire.

With help from Grameen Foundation, more than 40 Community Knowledge Workers have been trained to teach farmers how to use cassava stems to control banana disease. In three months, thousands of farmers in eastern Uganda have been visited.

Geoffrey Wasikye also grows bananas in Mbale District. He recently lost almost two hectares of bananas to disease, but is recovering rapidly. Since early this year, he has been using a dry cassava stem to remove male buds.

Uganda is the leading consumer of bananas in Africa, and banana bacterial wilt is the country’s most notorious plant disease. Dr. Jerome Kubiriba from the National Agricultural Organization says the country loses up to 200 million American dollars (about 135 million Euros) worth of bananas every year due to banana bacterial wilt. But with a little knowledge and tools from their own farms, Mbale’s farmers are fighting back.