PH efforts vs Panama disease vital to Uganda’s food security

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 February) — A study on Philippine efforts to fight a strain of Panama disease affecting bananas could help protect Uganda’s food security, a researcher from the African country’s National Agricultural Research Organization said last week.

Dr. Tushemereirwe Wilberforce in an interview said that while the strain of Panama disease that has affected bananas in the Philippines has not reached Uganda, it poses a threat in case it enters his country.

Wilberforce said Uganda’s banana industry is estimated to be worth $1 billion a year.

“But we also consume around $1 billion worth of bananas every year,” Wilberforce said, citing the absence of an export market as well as of the status of the crop as Uganda’s staple food.

“We eat that much bananas the same way Filipinos eat rice,” he said.

This means Uganda’s food security would be endangered if Panama disease entered the country, he added.

Wilberforce noted the size of lands in Uganda’s planted with banana is second only to India’s, but added that India is 20 times larger than Uganda.

“Where I come from, the new strain that is in the Philippines is not there in my country,” the researcher said. “But we have the old strain that is found all over the world.”

Wilberforce said he was conducting a study that should go on long enough to confirm that disease-resistant bananas can still be grown in his country.

He said at the moment, Uganda’s countermeasures to protect its bananas include eradication measures to contain and control an existing strain, with an emphasis on quarantine.

He added Uganda also bans the entry of seedlings from other countries. Only tissue cultures that are certified to be disease-free may be brought in.

Wilberforce spoke last week at a two-day workshop on Panama disease at the Marco Polo Davao Hotel.

The workshop was organized by the University of the Philippines-Mindanao (UPMin) and Netherlands based-Wageningen University.

Dr. Sylvia Concepcion, UPMin chancellor, said last week that farmers’ organizations, nongovernment organizations and research institutions gave inputs on the disease during the workshop.

Representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association also attended.

Mindanao’s banana industry has been badly hit by the disease, with around 1,200 hectares of plantations affected as of 2011. (MindaNews)