Putting the brakes on spread of Banana Bunchy Top disease threatening banana production in Tanzania

Source(s): Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations - Headquarters

Banana production is a major contributor to Tanzania’s economy, in fact, it is one of the most important crops that bolsters the country’s agribusiness subsector which is projected to grow by 10 percent by 2030 - according to statistics from Tanzania Plant Health and Pesticides Authority.

At household level, bananas have been part of the people’s dietary for a long time now, and have become part of their culture, thanks to their multipurpose uses – culinary and wine brewing. All cultivars are grown all year round.

However, banana cultivation is being threatened by the presence of the banana bunchy top disease (BBTD) first detected in 2020 in Kigoma region.

The disease is widespread in susceptible cultivars in eleven major banana-growing regions: Arusha, Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, Geita, Katavi, Kigoma, Kilimanjaro, Mbeya, Morogoro, Mwanza, and Pwani.

BBTD is caused by the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV, genus Babuvirus). BBTV spreads through vegetative propagation of planting materials and by an insect vector, banana aphid (Pentalonia nigronervosa). The affected plants do not produce fruit, and total production will cease within two years, leading to 80 to 100 percent production loss.

Strengthening national capacities to contain the spread

There is an urgent need to strengthen the capacity of national plant protection organizations and extension officers in surveillance, diagnostics, and implementation of BBTV containment actions in Tanzania.

To complement the government’s existing efforts to deal with the disease, FAO with financial support of USAID's Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) and in cooperation with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has trained relevant technical officers to identify BBTV-infected plants based on symptoms and how to use modern methods for diagnosis.

The field simulation exercise facilitated participants to gain knowledge in collecting samples for diagnosis as well as surveillance data at the farm and landscape level using digital tools for real-time surveillance reporting.

The officers were capacitated to eradicate BBTV-infected mats and monitor replanted fields for disease incidence.

Increasing awareness about BBTD

“Following the training I understand the impact of this disease on banana plants in the regions. We are going to be proactive and work on a detailed response plan for management and eradication of the disease using the information acquired,” said Mdili Katemani, Tanzanian Plant Health and Pesticides Authority (TPHPA).

The twenty officers that gained from the training will pass on the knowledge and skills in an effort to make the information about the disease available to field officers, farmers and other stakeholders. 

"The training has significantly contributed to increasing the awareness among technical officers on the threat posed by BBTD to banana production and enhancing their skills in surveillance, containment, eradication, and management of the disease,” reiterated Maged Elkahky, Assistant Team Lead for FAO’s Locusts and other Transboundary Plant Pests and Diseases.

Going forward

Maged noted that the country will need to develop an inclusive programme for the management and eradication of BBTV in Tanzania to protect banana cultivation and the livelihoods that depend on it.

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