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Stakeholders combat Banana bunchy top disease

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
02 October 2016   |   2:06 am
The International Institute of Agriculture (IITA) has intensified efforts aimed at preventing the further spread of Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD), that is debilitating banana production in sub-Saharan Africa.
A virus infested Banana tree

A virus infested Banana tree

The International Institute of Agriculture (IITA) has intensified efforts aimed at preventing the further spread of Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD), that is debilitating banana production in sub-Saharan Africa.

The disease, first discovered in Nigeria, in Odologun community, in Yewa South council area in 2012 by IITA in collaboration with University of Ibadan and Nigerian Agriculture Quarantine Service (NAQS), has reportedly spread to Ado-Odo/Ota, Yewa North, Imeko-Afon and Abeokuta North council areas. It has also been recorded in Ibarapa zone of Oyo state.

BBTD is caused by a virus named, Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). The virus spreads into new fields along with the infected planting materials (suckers, corms or tissue culture plants) and also through an insect vector, banana aphid (Pentalonia nigronervosa), which is widespread in all the banana and plantain-producing areas in Nigeria and many parts of the world.

Virus infection results in dwarfing, narrow leaf, chlorosis of leaf margins and discontinuous dark-green streaks on leaves, petioles and pseudostems. The leaves of infected plants become progressively smaller and stand more erect, giving the plant a bunchy appearance.

Plants infected early in their growth do not produce fruits, resulting in total loss of yield, whilst plants infected at later stages may produce normal or deformed fruits. The plant may eventually die, but often remains with its lateral shoots, which serve as a source of infection.

Just last week, an awareness campaign was held in Ilashe, Ipokia Local Government Area of Ogun State. It was meant to strengthen the launch held in Abeokuta, the state capital, last December, in partnership with NAQS, National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), and the Ogun State Ministry of Agriculture, to sensitise farmers experiencing the scourge of BBTD infestation and also create awareness among extension workers, policymakers, and farmers in disease-affected areas and elsewhere, about the danger of BBTD and control measures, including the need to plant clean banana suckers to prevent their fields from becoming infested.

Before this period, September 2, 2015 to be precise, a field day was organised for farmers and extension workers in Idologun, where the disease was first sighted, to control the disease.

The field day was used to demonstrate and deploy control measures for the eradication of infected plants and recovery of production in BBTD-infested areas.

Idologun is part of the pilot sites benefiting from the control measures implemented through a project on BBTD control in Africa, funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (CRP-RTB) and implemented by IITA, NAQS, and NIHORT, Nigeria.

IITA Virologist, Lava Kumar, led the team of experts from IITA, NAQS, and NIHORT to both communities, with over 150 farmers and extension workers in attendance.

The field day and awareness programme also served as an avenue to create awareness about the disease, and educate farmers on how to produce clean planting materials, as well as, learn about business opportunities for rural youth in production and supply of banana planting material through a model being developed in collaboration with IITA Youth Agripreneurs.

To protect banana from BBTD in Africa, the Alliance for BBTD Control in Africa was established with the support of CRP-RTB, coordinated by IITA, Bioversity, together with CIRAD and several national agricultural research systems in Bénin, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, DRC, Gabon, Nigeria and Malawi.

Last May, multidisciplinary team of experts met in IITA, Ibadan, at a workshop, to take stock and discuss plans to stop further spread of the disease.

The workshop tiled: “Recovering Banana Production In BBTD Affected Areas–strengthening cross-site learning tools in epidemiology, gender and social relations and participatory experimentation approaches,” brought together implementing partners of the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) from IITA, Bioversity International, and CIRAD.

National program partners involved in banana production recovery pilot schemes in Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Malawi, and Nigeria were also in attendance.

During the six-day conference, participants deliberated on several topics related to the ALLIANCE’s campaign against BBTD, including an assessment of project progress, a review of pending activities, and devising effective plans for advancing the campaign in 2017 and beyond.

The focus of discussions at the conference was on reviewing experiences in pilot sites and identifying key elements in mobilising communities and their partners for the recovery of banana production in BBTD-affected areas, as a basis to develop guidelines for integrated management of BBTD; prepare work plans for finalisation of products for the RTB complementary project on BBTD; discussion on epidemiological modeling and particularly, the protocols for compatible sampling; and review of projects and proposals for the next phase.

The leader of the team, Kumar, who has been spearheading the campaign, told The Guardian that the Institute had been able to identified the vector responsible for the BBTD, but yet to find a permanent vaccine. “For now, what we have is the preventive approach, which is being accepted by the farmers.”

According to him, since the disease migrated from Benin Republic into Idologun community, the institute has been able to provide new BBTD-free suckers for the farmers in the area. “For now, prevention is the best option for BBTD control, which includes, strictly avoid importing or moving planting materials from regions in which BBTD is known and using only healthy planting materials.”

He noted that they have recorded breakthrough in their efforts, noting that soon, the diseases would be defeated.