Banana Wilt Breakthrough Boon to EAC

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Joint and concerted efforts by East African scientists, researchers and academicians is already beginning to pay off, a sign that integration is the best way forward the EAC.

A major breakthrough for banana farmers and consumers alike was announced recently by the Chief Executive Officer of Crop Bioscience Solutions, Mr. Wilfred Mushobozi who reported that Uganda researchers at the Kawanda Research Institute, near Kampala, had developed a banana wilt--resistant variety.

The Arusha -based scientist, told East African Business Week, that the wilt, is a bacterial disease caused by strain known scientifically as Xanthomonas campestris pv. Musacearum.

Reported around 2001, the wilt has been very destructive with incidence of 70-80% in many plantations and yield losses of 90% reported on thousands of farms. In Uganda records show it has caused annual losses of up to $360 million contribution to GDP.

Bananas and their cousin, the plantain, are a staple in East Africa, with Uganda having the highest consumption per capita in the whole world.

It is estimated that in Uganda alone, a person consumes 3.6kg per day and 191 kg per year. This is roughly 16 times the amount eaten by people living in the United States.

Bananas are a source of potassium and vitamins A, B6 and C, rich in minerals and dietary fibre and are easy to digest.

Scientists and nutritionists say that combined with milk, it is possible to live on these two food sources alone for an indefinite period of time.

They are also a rich energy source, with carbohydrates accounting for 22% and 32% of fruit weight for banana and plantain, respectively.

Because of their popularity, bananas are a cash crop for East African farmers, and their export sales fuel household incomes and exports mainly in the region's cities and towns.

Bananas are also a source of medicine, clothing, tools, shelter, furniture, paper and handicrafts.

The news from Kawanda will be a welcome boon to farmers who after losing colossal acreages to the wilt, had resorted to growing other crops and/or giving up on farming, a move that has affected household incomes and challenged the economy.

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