News
December 18, 2009
Another disease deals bananas a hard blow

As if the reduced tariffs for Latin bananas were not enough, the local banana industry has suffered another setback.{{more}}

The discovery of the Black Sigatoka Disease (BLSD) here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, along with other threats to the industry appeared too much for Chief Agricultural Officer Rueben Robertson, so much so that he was moved to tears at a press conference on Tuesday.

“My emotions stem from the fact that being the technical leader of the Ministry and having had to address a number of other diseases – and before we can overcome one of the major ones that is affecting bananas, we now have to another one to contend with,” Robertson said when asked about him showing his softer side.

“And knowing full well the difficulties facing the farmers, I know what they had to go through over the last year…. And now we have just put a system in place to offer top quality technical support, and we have seen significant results from some of these efforts and you feel real good. On the opposite side you see the challenges continue to confront you.”

Earlier in the press conference, Robertson confirmed that signs and symptoms of the disease were discovered here over one month ago, but it was only announced at Tuesday’s press conference because the Ministry was awaiting certified confirmation of its presence.

With help from the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and the Ministry of Agriculture in Martinique, the Ministry here was able to confirm the disease’s presence.

He indicated that as in the past, the ministry and its stakeholders will do as much as they can to keep the industry alive and ensure that farmers continue to make a living from bananas.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has demonstrated to the nation over the years that we have the competencies and leadership to be able to address these difficulties. We did promise the nation that they would be able to eat their fruits without worms and we have been able to address them.”

According to a leaflet handed out by the Ministry, the Black Sigatoka disease (scientific name Mycophaerella fijiensis) is caused by a fungus which was first discovered in Fiji in the pacific islands.

It is considered the most damaging and costly disease of bananas. It produces ascospores and conidia and is spread by spores carried in the wind.

The spores can infect all the banana plant, including leaves, suckers used for planting, as well as leaf litter, which in turn can contaminate fruit shipments.

One outstanding feature of the BLSD is that it not only affects bananas but also the plantain fruit.

Minister of Agriculture Montgomery Daniel said that not only the Ministry and its stakeholders, but also farmers must play their part to aid in not only the containment but also the elimination of the new threat to the industry.

“Such will be to ensure that their fields are de-leafed of all plants that are showing signs and symptoms.”

“We know that there are lots of fields with lots of high weeds so as to encourage pathogens and so we have to ask our farmers to improve on their cultural practices as much as possible so that we can have a reduction of the spores in and around the banana fields.”

Acknowledging that the latest hurdles for the industry may discourage farmers and other stakeholders, Daniel, too, had words of encouragement.

“The challenges are enormous, but I am sure that these challenges are not insurmountable. The Ministry of Agriculture and the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines will continue to give its support to banana farmers and the agriculture as a whole.

The officials estimate that the latest fight could cost between three to $4 million to contain BLSD. (JJ)