HYDERABAD: Banana fields in Sindh have been struck by panama wilt (fasarium wilt), a soil-borne fungus that originated in Tando Allahyar district, reports prepared by agriculture researchers said.
Lamon Kumar, a researcher and expert in banana tissue culture, associated with Agriculture Extension Department said, “There is no chemical solution for this disease. It requires adopting standard operating procedures (SOPs) and keeping the infected plants under quarantine.”
If the SOPs were not followed, “we may face colossal loss. Because the plant disease has the capacity to destroy all banana plants in a few months,” he added.
Researchers fear that soil-borne diseases might spread to other areas via people or vehicles, which carry soil. Initially, all activities should be halted, including movement of peasants, workers and tractor machinery to avoid the spread of the fungus. Precautionary measures include disinfecting shoes before entering banana fields, which might help control the disease.
Shahnaz Leghari, banana value-chain specialist working for a private project in Tando Allahyar and Matiari districts, said some banana farmers found problems in banana plants in the months of June and July 2021. “After orientation, the farmers have adopted SOPs and kept the infected plants under quarantine to avoid further spread of the virus.”
Panama wilt exists in the soil and spreads plant to plant through water, contaminating the other plants instantly. Therefore, there was need for awareness among farmers to manage this disease. “Otherwise, we do not have a permanent solution other than replacing banana with other crops,” she added.
Farmers who replant bananas on the same soil might face similar problems, because the soil might remain a carrier for at least 40 years.
Presently, panama wilt has been reported in Tando Allahyar fields, but researchers of Sindh agriculture extension department as well as the provincial agriculture research institute believe the fungus exists in all the banana fields across the province.
Some researchers pointed out that the fundus was first reported in the banana fields of coastal district Thatta after 2010-2011 floods. But since the authorities never took it seriously, the disease was now spreading plant to plant and field to field, they claimed.
Data on banana cultivation has not been updated; however, estimates suggest plantations were spread over 100,000 acres of land. Sindh contributes 90 percent banana, while only 10 percent comes from the southern parts of Punjab.
Sindh has banana fields in Hyderabad, Tando Allahyar, Matiari, Tando Muhammad Khan, parts of Thatta, Badin, Naushehro Feroz, Nawab Shah, Sukkur and Khairpur districts.
Thatta district was a major contributor of banana produce till 2015, but after witnessing water scarcity and diseases, many farmers replaced these fields with other crops. Now hardly a few farmers tend banana fields on a small scale in Thatta.
Banana farmers in Thatta recalled the deadly disease in 1988, which destroyed many potential banana fields, leaving farmers in a helpless situation. But, they said since banana plantations needed water at least once a week, maintenance became unaffordable and they cleaned the fruit plants.
Big landlords do not cultivate banana and prefer sugarcane, wheat, cotton and mango orchards on a larger scale. Only small scale farmers cultivate banana.
Among them many farmers have already replaced their banana fields with other fruit orchards and crops, considering risk factors in terms of lowering productivity and increasing cost to maintain this fruit in fields, especially when diseases strike oner after another.
Researchers said they were keeping a close eye to gauge the situation in March and April, expecting the disease might appear in the summer season.
Since chemical agents are not effective in managing the disease, the only options are prevention, very early recognition and rapid containment of outbreak to prevent an epidemic.
Earlier, Sindh farmers and researchers have also found other diseases, including bunchy top, which caused destruction of bananas in different areas. This new phenomenon has knocked the doors of research institutes, academia and concerned government departments, that need to deal with the problem to save the banana industry on war footing.
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