Banana and plantain (Musa species) rank fifth in the world as important food crops after maize, rice, wheat, and cassava. Banana fruit is consumed by the world population much more than apples and oranges combined. Today, bananas are grown in at least 107 countries and are ranked fourth among the world’s food crops in monetary value.
The annual banana production worldwide is estimated to be 130 million metric tons, of which one-third is produced in Sub-Sahara Africa. Tanzania is the second largest banana producer in East Africa after Uganda.
Banana is probably the most delicious dish in Tanzania and beyond. This proposition is very visible at many functions when `a la carte is offered. According to a reliable survey, approximately 55 percent of this crop is grown in the Lake Zone of Tanzania. The Northern Zone contributes about 25 percent. Whereas other areas combined are responsible for 30 percent of the share.
Banana is a staple food crop for approximately 20 percent of the population in Tanzania and is available throughout the year. Almost all what is produced is consumed locally, and it is also a source of steady incomes to most of the smallholder farmers. There are many economic and cultural values attached to this crop.
Banana in Kagera region
The estimated area under banana crop in Tanzania is 480,000 acres, i.e. 192,000 hectares. On the average, banana yields are about 6 tons per hectare. In contrast, under good management, plus use of improved banana varieties, one can get over 60 tons per hectare. Cooking varieties dominate production by 85%. The rest is for brewing (10%), roasting and dessert (5%). Kagera Region tops all other areas in banana production in Tanzania.
Banana is a household name in Kagera region, particularly Bukoba, Muleba, Karagwe, Kyerwa and Missenyi districts. It is a staple food for many families. This is why when people talk about food, they actually mean banana. This crop is used in many forms: cooked plantain – Bitoke, banana for making juice – Mulamba, fermented drink – Lubisi, and distilled liquor – Konyagi.
For the past four decades, Kagera region has witnessed a chain of calamities that have crippled its economic and social development. It began with Idd Amin Dadaa’s invasion of the Missenyi salient in 1967 – 1968. This was followed with the scourge of HIV-Aids, which again originated from Uganda. Also, the devastating banana weevil attack which occurred between 1980s and 1990s, coupled with unwanted guest – the banana wilt disease were extremely destructive.
For almost one decade farmers in Kagera region are not sure of their survival in the wake of the new disease called Banana Xanthomonas Wilt – BXW. This catastrophic disease is caused by bacteria, its scientific name is: Bacterium Xanthomonas Campestris. It affects all types of banana plants. The most outstanding symptoms are wilting and yellowing of the leaves. The next step is the withering of the fruits, failing to reach maturity. Ultimately all affected plants rot and fall off.
Regarding the magnitude of the damage, Mr. Innocent Ndyatabula, Director of the Agricultural Research Institute, based in Maruku village, Bukoba district, narrated that this bacterial disease was observed in Kagera region since mid nineties. It was first noticed in areas closer to Lake Victoria. However, as time went by the disease spread very gradually towards the hinterland. Currently, the entire region is affected.The Researcher said that the entire plateau of Muleba district is the latest victim of this disease. “The devastation is vivid in all plateau villages, along Kamachumu – Buganguzi – Kishanda – Nshamba – Kabale stretch. This area is famous for its soil fertility and good rain distribution, it was once known as the
The Researcher said that the entire plateau of Muleba district is the latest victim of this disease. “The devastation is vivid in all plateau villages, along Kamachumu – Buganguzi – Kishanda – Nshamba – Kabale stretch. This area is famous for its soil fertility and good rain distribution, it was once known as the bread-basket of Kagera region because of high banana production”. He intimated.
Mr. Charles Kamando, an agriculture expert, and Head of the Farmers Development Association – MAYAWA, had this to say: “Banana production in Kagera region is estimated at 650,000 tons per year. However, banana yields are declining very fast because of this disease. Crop failure is manifested in two forms: decreased number of hands/clusters per bunch, and a vivid shrink of banana fingers”. This expert added that in the old good days, a bunch of banana from his farm formed 10 to 14 hands, and weighed about 70 kilogrammes. Yields have declined so much that currently, the average weight of a bunch is 30 kilos”.
The extent of destruction varies from area to area, Bukoba and Muleba districts are the most hit, recording up to 100 percent of demolition. Some plots are completely bare. In the effort to contain this scourge, Agricultural Scientists, Field Staff, Administrators, and Politicians have formed a task-force to address this problem. This team is in the forefront in advising the farmers to comply with measures that are scientific and practical.
There are two most practical methods that are recommended. One is to replace banana with an alternative crop, e.g. maize, cassava and sweet potatoes. Such a replacement will also be a blessing in disguise by challenging the dominancy of the traditional dish. Banana eaters will be obliged to change their food habit. Though this could be a bitter pill for the traditionalist tribe, it is practicable, and there is no significant financial implication.
Banana is a perennial plant which requires good agricultural practices for maximum returns
The second alternative is to uproot the entire banana crop, chop it into pieces and bury them deep in the ground. Although this operation is costly, it can produce the expected results in a short time. However there several obstacles: Smallholder farmers are not well organized to carry out the destruction process simultaneously, and most farmers are ignorant of the scientific procedure required. Moreover, this exercise involves obvious expenses that most smallholder farmers can hardly afford.
One of the senior researchers at Maruku Banana Research Centre, Dr. Mugenzi Byabachwezi said that they have initiated a project to raise banana plants that are free from Banana Wilt Disease. “Apart from uprooting and destroying the affected plants, it is important to introduce new banana varieties in the region. Most of the recommended varieties are cultured at the Arusha based Bio-Science Laboratory and some few varieties at Maruku Research Centre. One certified stem is sold at Tsh. 2,000/=. The challenge is that we are unable to raise enough stems to meet the demand”. He intimated.
Maruku Research Institute which is capable of producing 1,500 banana stems per week is overwhelmed by the demand for certified stems. At present banana growers are demanding over 4 million disease free stems, and the demand is increasing. Another drawback is that most farmers are not willing to take simultaneous actions to destroy completely this disease. To eradicate it requires farmers’ willingness to comply with biological control measures, and strict cooperation by all actors, coupled with total compliance to the enforcement of rigorous bylaws.
ADDENDUM: Kagera region occupies an area of 35,685 square kilometers, out which 7,172 square kilometers are covered by water, which is approximately 20% of the total area. This region enjoys climatic conditions suitable for growing a wide range of agricultural crops and raising livestock. It has a relatively cool temperature – between 20 and 28 degrees centigrade, and a reliable rain pattern averaging 1,500 millimetres per annum.
According to the 2012 population census Kagera region had a population of 2,458,023 people. Basing on the national annual population growth of 2.4%, by end of year 2015 the population was well above 2,600,000. This region boasts of coffee, tea and sugar as cash crops. However, in economic terms, it is lagging far behind many regions in Tanzania, because by 2012 the per capita income was Tsh 716,209.