Farmers in Rukungiri district are worried about their plantations following the spread of the Banana rust thrips disease to their area. The disease has affected several banana plantations Nyarushanje, Buyanja and Nyakagyeme sub counties.
The disease has also ravaged several banana gardens in the neighbouring Sheema district. According to the farmers, an infected plant starts with changing from green to black and hardens. The bananas lose taste if cooked. As the affected fruits continue to grow, sometimes the peel cracks causing scarring. The farmers also say the affected bananas do not ripen even when cut and folded to ripen.
The farmers say that they are battling the disease on their own because of the failure by the district agriculture and production officials to come to their rescue. Bernard Byamugisha and Bright Turinawe, both farmers from Kahoko Parish in Nyakagyeme Sub County, say that the disease attacks the bananas shortly after developing a fruit.
The duo says that they are yet to establish the source of the disease. Emmanuel Tumuramye, a farmer and Ibanda village LC1 Chairman in Nyarushanje sub-county, says that the disease broke out about four months back and has almost spread to every banana plantation in the sub-county.
He says that the disease comes at a time when the farmers had started jubilating and reaping big after defeating the Banana Bacteria Wilt disease. Tumuramye says that he has already identified about 15 infected plants in his garden that have already turned black. He says that unless Agriculture officials rush to their rescue, banana farming will drop completely and affect the survival of several families.
Bagahe Tumwebaze, a farmer from Bihishamwiika village in Bunono parish also in Nyarushanje sub-county, says that the disease is new, since it is the first time it is affecting bananas in the area. He says that buyers are shunning the bananas because of their funny look and taste after being cooked.
Michael Musiime, the Nyarushanje Sub County LC 3 Chairperson, says that they have resorted to feeding the affected bananas to pigs, which at times refuse to eat them because of the bad taste.
According to Musiime, the disease is causing him a huge financial loss because he currently sells 10 bunches of bananas compared to between 70 and 80 bunches he would sell before the outbreak four months ago.
Zepher Karyaija, the Rukungiri District Production and Marketing Officer told our reporter on phone on Tuesday that his office is aware of the rust thrips disease outbreak in the district. He explained that the rust thrips are small yellow insects with narrow fringed wings, which feed on the green surface of the banana fingers.
Karyaija said that although some of the affected bananas can be eaten despite lacking palatability, buyers cannot buy them because they don’t look clean. He called for calm from farmers, saying that the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL-Kawanda) is conducting investigations on the disease.
He advised the farmers in the meantime to use traditional methods of fighting the disease by cutting the affected banana fruits and bury them to reduce the population of the insects in the fields as well as removing neglected plantations.