Malawi to revamp banana industry

By Bester Kayaye

Government says it is in the process of introducing new banana plant varieties to regain the glory that the crop lost to Banana Bunchy Top (BBTD) virus, which ravaged 11 countries in the sub-Saharan Africa in 2016.

Agriculture Minister, Lobin Lowe, said the districts of Mulanje and Thyolo, famous for some of the lost naturally-flavored varieties, will be case studies on the effects of BBTD and how the banana virus disrupted livelihoods as imported species dominated the local market.

In Mulanje alone, the disease affected 6,000 hectares of land, affecting 185,000 farming households.

“The Ministry is lobbying farmers in affected areas to uproot all bananas from their farmlands in order to replant new disinfected ones,” he said explaining that the process has, however, been facing resistance from some farmers who were used to the old variety.

Lowe said that to ensure that its production is doubled, the ministry will be introducing the new crop in other districts while using the two districts as trial epicentres.

A study by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations shows that, in 1999, Malawi registered a sharp increase in the production of the banana crop from 93,000 tons in 1998 to 300,000 tons.

Figures from the World Bank show that Malawi earned more than $6.6 billion from banana sales in 2015, before production dropped sharply due to Banana Bunchy Top Virus.

BBTD was first detected in Nkhata Bay, where it is believed to have been brought by smugglers. Infected plants are dwarfed from their early growth stages and do not bear fruit.

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