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Leaf spot disease affecting bananas


A flare up of leaf spot disease in banana farms here, which threatens the already volatile banana industry, has agriculture officials worried.{{more}}

Last weekend, Minister of Agriculture Montgomery Daniel told reporters that reports indicate that there has been a steady increase in ship ripe among bananas shipped to the United Kingdom (UK), which is as a result of the leaf spot situation.

The leaf spot disease predisposes the fruit to premature ripening.

The tolerance level for ship ripe is one per cent, but the present ripening numbers for St Vincent and the Grenadines’ bananas being shipped to the UK is at an unacceptable five per cent average.

Because of this problem, the bananas are either sold cheaply or dumped, which could drive more nails into the coffin of the industry.

Some 370 farmers have been found to have this problem with their bananas.

“Quite a lot of our farmers are not adhering to the desired cultural practices as is required,” Daniel said, saying that this was one of the major causes of the flare up.

Daniel explained that during a tour of banana fields after the situation was brought to his attention, he found that many farmers were not taking proper care of their fields. In fact, the concerned Minister explained that many of the fields are semi, or even totally abandoned.

Daniel admitted that some farmers’ nonchalant attitude could be attributed to a feeling of resignation they may feel towards the industry – an unwarranted attitude he contends.

“From all that would have been happening within the banana industry over the years…all of the banana producing countries in the world are aware of what is happening…it is only the Windward Islands and Jamaica have declined their production and have been showing less hope in the industry. All other banana producing nations have increased their banana production significantly, including the Dominican Republic and Belize.”

Daniel insists that despite the challenges, the banana industry in the Windward Islands is in a good position under the Windward island Banana Development and Exporting Company Limited (WIBDECO).

“If you are not going to cultivate banana, do something else,” said Chief Agricultural Officer (ag) Reuben Robertson.

“There is serious cause for concern. There is an urgent need for us to work more closely with some of the farmers who have fallen by the wayside,” Robertson said.

He warned that the abandoned fields have been providing a source of inoculum not only for leaf spot, but other pests and diseases like rats and the Moko disease.

Problems with securing the shipping of necessary fertilizers and chemicals and an ongoing labour shortage in the industry have also contributed to the leaf spot flare up.

Meanwhile, agriculture officials are calling on farmers to cut plants that have six leaves or fewer, as part of the leaf spot combating strategy.

St Vincent and the Grenadines is currently battling hard to control the dangerous Moko disease, which was officially identified as being in this country just under a year ago.(KJ)