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Funds needed to stall banana crop disease in Uganda

A bacterial disease that destroys banana crop has spread to ‘worrying levels’ in Uganda and is almost on the verge of threatening the food security of 14 million consumers

Scientists believe that the disease, identified as Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), can only be contained if funding of up to US$1 million per year can be made available.

A research officer at Uganda’s National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Jerome Kubiriba, said, “If the disease continues to spread, production of cooking bananas, known locally as ‘matooke’, could be halved over the next 10 years.”

The problem assumes a greater significance as matooke is a source of staple food for a large portion of Uganda’s population.

Studies show that the annual consumption of bananas in Uganda is the highest in the world at about 0.7kg per person per day.

“Funding of at least $1 million annually can effectively save bananas worth more than $200 million annually,” added Kubiriba.

“Support from the government of Uganda to stall the disease has reduced significantly due to lack of funding. Monetary support from outside was also withdrawn in 2008. The disease was kept under control until the time we had the funding to fight it,” said the researcher.

The director of crop resources in agriculture, animal industry and fisheries ministry, Okaasai Opolot, said the disease, which attacks all types of bananas and is spread by insects, wind-driven rainfall, infected planting materials and contaminated planting tools, is a threat to the crop's production in East Africa.

More than half of the crops in mountainous South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been infected by BXW, threatening the livelihoods of local communities, added Opolot.