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Reviving Malawi’s Banana Industry through Farmer Field Schools

29/03/2019

KULIMA, a 5-year programme funded by the European Union and FAO and in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development of Malawi, has proven its success with its first harvest of healthy bunches of bananas.

Malawi’s banana industry has all but died out over the last two decades due to the scourge of the banana bunchy top disease. Caused by banana bunchy top virus (BBTV), this disease, found in many of the country’s production sites, has caused low production and has in most cases stopped production of banana altogether. The losses on both the nutrition and commercial fronts have been huge, affecting households and businesses alike.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, as recent developments under the ‘Revitalizing Agriculture Clusters and Ulimi Wa M’ndandanda through Farmer Field Schools’ project show promising results for reviving the banana industry. The FAO supported project, which is implementing Master Trainers’ courses on Farmer Field School, has incorporated practical modules on good husbandry practices, management of common banana diseases, including BBTV and pests, variety performance and adaptation. While practiced initially at residential training centers, several FFS study plots have been established within community settings where among the ongoing activities are the multiplication of clean planting material and hands-on practical skills on various production and disease management practices.

This progress, though in its initial stages, has brought confidence to extension staff who have seen the wipeout of banana in their districts of operation. Where previously, banana growing was the mainstay for farmers and other players along the value chain in districts such as Thyolo, and Mulanje, BBTV brought a shift to their livelihood.

“Farmers in Mulanje and Thyolo had been highly dependent on banana to support their needs, whether income, and household items and we also had transport business that relied on the banana industry, ferrying bananas from Mulanje to other parts of the country. All these have been affected due to the lack of bananas because of this disease. Yet with the training that we have had we have managed establish banana orchards and none have been affected by BBTV,” Felix Chikudza, extension worker and Master Trainer on FFS says.

The current KULIMA strategy is anchored under the Department of Agriculture Research Services (DARS) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development. The department contributes to large-scale multiplication of clean planting materials using the tissue culture technology.

“We have been working as government to revive the banana industry using our laboratories through the Department of Agricultural Research Services, and we saw it fit to have this alternative strategy,” Hastings Phewa, Programme Manager for Mzuzu Agriculture Development Division, Ministry of Agriculture, said during a media interview. “With the assistance from FAO through the KULIMA project, we have established nurseries with varieties of banana from various parts of the country, for multiplication of clean planting material. In less than a year, the bananas are ready,” he continued, explaining how clean planting material from community FFS study plots established through the project are now instrumental in reestablishing farmers’ orchards in various districts.

After years of relying on imported bananas from neighbouring Tanzania and Mozambique, the recent harvesting of healthy bunches of bananas within 11 months after the project established its first banana orchard shows what can be achieved in the 5 years of the KULIMA project period.

“It is encouraging to see so much banana after less than a year”, the EU Ambassador to Malawi said during a recent visit to Mzuzu Residential Training Centre, where she was able to initiate the first banana harvest.  “This shows the potential of what can be achieved in the next few years if we continue with the good practices that are being taught under this programme,”she emphasized.

 

For more information, please contact: Towela.Munthali@fao.org