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Why agricultural revolution cannot ignore science

December 2, 2013. THE world’s food systems are being squeezed from all sides: Rising populations and shifting diets are increasing the global demand for food, while food production is increasingly compromised by climate change and land degradation.

With nearly a billion people already going hungry, how will we manage to feed the world over the coming decades? There’s a tendency to suppose that the job will fall to our conventional agriculture.

But is that right? When banana wilt hit all the seven districts in Kagera region, there was panic among farmers.Panic also engulfed researchers as to whether they would play a role in taming the disease and saving the region’s food security.

“The diseased Kagera is the only region under severe threat of food insecurity. Science can provide the quick and long term solution,”says the national coordinator of Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology(OFAB), Tanzania Chapter, Nyinondi Philbert.

In the meantime, farmers say the disease is not going away and hunger is looming large in this area. Mr Issa Chamani, a farmer from Kamuli Village, said the disease had destroyed 15 acres, leading him to start cutting down the affected banana trees to protect the rest.

He said the disease had also affected farmers in neighbouring villages of Kyerere, Kasori – all of which were now facing food insecurity. Another farmer, Mr Hamiru Ibrahim, said the banana disease had destroyed his five acres and his source of income because he depended solely on the crop.

Mr Henerick Frederick had a similar experience as his 2.5 acres had also been destroyed. Kagera farmers call upon the responsible authorities to help them fight against banana wilt, a disease that has affected hundreds of villages across the region.

Mr Frederick said the area would soon run out of bananas unless there were serious interventions to address the problem. “There will be no more bananas in urban areas in the near future as a result of the banana bacterial wilt disease.

All crops, including cassava, seem to be affected by the disease which is affecting production,” he said. First reported about 40 years ago in Ethiopia, BXW is endemic in most of Tanzania’s banana growing areas of Kagera, and has been reported in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya and Rwanda.

“BXW is the most serious threat to banana production in this region,” Senior Research Officer at Chief Research Office at Maruku Agriculture Research Institute, Sayi Bulili, said.

He told the ‘Sunday News’: “BXW is very serious because it could wipe out all cultivars planted in the continent, with almost no resistance detected.

“The plants wilt and eventually die. They either do not produce fruits, and when they do, they are hard and inedible to either humans or animals and they cannot even be processed,” he said. Bananas and plantains are the world’s fourth most important food crop after rice, wheat, and maize.

BXW symptoms include premature ripening of fruits, pale yellow ooze from cut surfaces, wilting of bracts and male buds, and progressive yellowing leading to complete wilting. Plants generally show symptoms within three weeks of infection.

By Orton Kiishweko

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