Reuters.com
August 26, 2009
www.reuters.com

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) – Two banana diseases spreading in Africa could hurt food supply for 30 million people on the continent who largely rely on the crop, an international agricultural research body said on Wednesday.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) said the banana bunchy top viral disease has infected 45,000 hectares of bananas in Malawi alone and a survey done last year found it in 11 other countries.

"We found the disease to be well-established in Gabon, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), Northern Angola and central Malawi," CGIAR quoted Lava Kumar, a researcher at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the survey’s leader, saying in a statement.

A serious attack of banana bunchy top causes all leaves to sprout from a plant’s top, stunting its growth. The affected countries are in eastern, central and southern Africa.

CGIAR said another study earlier this year found banana bacterial wilt disease in Ethiopia, Uganda, Rwanda, western Kenya, northwest Tanzania and north and South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Scientists fear it could spread to Burundi.

Uganda, the continent’s leading banana grower and consumer, has experienced bacterial wilt since 2001 and it causes losses of between $70 million and $200 million annually, according to CGIAR.

"All but the traditional varieties of bananas in sub-Saharan Africa lack tolerance to the two diseases, which necessitates more research into the continent’s local … varieties," it said.

"The diseases require drastic and expensive control measures such as completely excavating entire banana fields and treating them with pesticides, or burning the plants in order to complete the disease."

Scientists from the affected countries are meeting this week in Arusha, northern Tanzania, to discuss how to counter the diseases.

(Reporting by George Obulutsa; editing by Giles Elgood)

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