Learning from others: Banana wilt control in Eastern DRC

Despite efforts to control the disease for almost ten years, Banana Bacterial Wilt (or BXW as it is known) continues to ravage banana fields in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), especially in the North and South Kivu neighbourhoods. At the same time the disease has been largely brought under control in neighbouring Uganda. In June 2011, FAO took a group of officials, local leaders, farmers, NGO staff and representatives of civil society from Goma - 16 people in all - on a week-long study tour to understand what lessons could be drawn from the Ugandan experience.

First stop was the ministry of agriculture in Entebbe, where Mr Okassai, Director of Crop Resources, explained how the Ugandan BXW control initiative was organised from 2005 onwards.  The group - led by Dr Jerome Kubiriba - then visited Kawanda Research Institute, home of the National Banana Research programme, before visiting field sites in Kiboga and Mbarara to question local farmers, officials and extension workers.  

The overall conclusion: listening to farmers had helped the Ugandan researchers come up with improved recommendations for BXW control.  Farmer field schools funded through an FAO Technical Cooperation Project in 2006-2008 had helped this exchange.  And the control effort had focused on simple practical recommendations to break the cycle of disease transmission.  These included removing the male bud with a forked stick as soon as bunches have formed; cutting down and chopping of infected stems – otherwise no other using of cutting tools in gardens affected by the disease; and care over the selection of planting materials.

The DRC team was impressed - particularly by the farmers’ accounts of successful control, and the dedication of Ugandan research and extension team.  

Overall, they noted the emphasis placed on field practices to reduce the disease load, rather than the distribution of clean planting materials, which tend to become infected unless the farmers adopt the control measures.

Following the visit, FAO organised for Godfrey - one of the Ugandan team - to visit and train a pilot group of Congolese farmers near Goma.  His field courses, delivered through an interpreter, were heavily oversubscribed, with up to 100 people at each session.  The Minister of agriculture was briefed, and launched a provincial BXW control initiative in August.  By October a total of 600 people had been trained in Bweremana and Shasha, near Goma, and at Rutshuru.  Pilot sites are now being monitored and early results show disease incidence falling; and banana production beginning to return.  Most significantly, this pilot activity has influenced the way other stakeholders in the district think about the disease, with the result that both local and international NGOs are planning to help farmers tackle BXW with renewed confidence in 2012.

For FAO, the next stage is to encourage sharing of these experiences with officials and other stakeholders from other countries of the region; at a workshop and study visit programme in Uganda scheduled for 23-26 January 2012.

Thanks are due to our colleagues in the FAO office in Goma, led by Augustin Milambo, with Paul Henri Bansoba, and to the FAO Multidonor Mechanism for the funding provided.

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