The government is set to replace a sizeable portion of the traditional less-productive banana seed varieties with new high-yield varieties after it secured support from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
FAO is investing Rwf215 million ($250,000) in production and distribution of seeds and planting materials, which target farmers in remote high banana-producing areas of Gisagara, Muhanga, Karong i, Rwamagana and Rubavu.
The areas, which make up a large part of the country’s total banana plantation, have over the past couple of years been hit by the devastating banana bacterial wilt and fall armyworms like Kirabiranya and Kabore.
The diseases together with poor husbandry practices and limited access to best varieties left farmers with little to no income from their fields after production reduced sharply. Rwanda Today found out that efforts to avail new banana varieties to replace infected banana plantations nationwide were yet to get to many farmers.
“The government has done a lot under the banana improvement programme, but we had hoped that the momentum would continue. However, the onset of the banana bacterial wilt set us back, which is why FAO’s support is important,” said Charles Murekezi, director-general of Agriculture Development at Ministry of agriculture.
According to Dr Murekezi, FAO will focus on rehabilitation and revitalisation of existing bananas farms in the selected areas, allowing the government to direct its interventions to the remaining banana growing zones of the country.
FAO Rwanda representative Gualbert Gbehounou told Rwanda Today an assessment would be carried out to outline the size of land belonging to farmers interested in getting rid of old plantations, in order to estimate the number and amount of planting materials needed.
He said the two-year project seeks to ensure that clean banana planting material are readily available to farmers, and continuous dissemination of knowledge and skills on integrated crop and disease management technologies alongside good husbandry practices.
“We target to distribute close to 60,000 banana planting materials by the end of the project, but the number of farmers will depend on the detailed need assessment.
We plan to approach farmers with unproductive plantations and offer them a number of high-yield clean banana varieties,” said Dr Gbehounou.
According to the agriculture ministry, there was a need to replace the old banana plantations with new banana tree varieties specifically prioritising those that are meant for commercialization as opposed to brewing or cooking bananas.
Dr Murekezi said the government had considered urging farmers to uproot banana plantations where bacterial wilt had attacked banana crops, while letting those varieties attacked by pests that are not transmitted to progressively replace their crops.
Official statistics show bananas, a crop currently covering about 1.4 million hectares of the national arable land, has increasingly evolved as one of the country’s staple food and cash crop, contributing more than a half of Rwanda’s annual agricultural production.
However, while the estimated annual produce per a hectare of banana plantation is estimated at be as high as 60 tonnes, farmers in parts of the country show that limited access to good varieties, high cost of farm inputs and disease outbreak have seen many getting as low as five to 10 tonnes per hectare annually.
The government targets to increase the productivity of banana as a staple crop under the six-year Strategic Plan for Agriculture Transformation (PSTA4).