Banana blight raises food security concerns in Burundi

Burundi: learning to grow more

Burundi is currently battling to curb a disease that attacks banana plant, one of its staple foods.

The disease known as the banana blight may have spread from neighboring countries where it's been endemic for several years.

This is cause for concern since food prices are on the rise again in the global market.

Burundi is emerging from over a decade of conflict, and the economy is in tatters.

Jocelyne Sambira reports.


Banana is one of the staple foods in Burundi.

It is eaten raw, ripe or cooked and it makes a very popular beer across the country known as Urwarwa.

A disease is attacking the plant, making the leaves and the produce turn prematurely yellow.

Jacques sells bananas at the market for a living.

"The situation is very bad. A bunch of bananas now costs double what it used to. This bunch for example used to cost about a thousand and five hundred. Now you can't have it for less than three thousand five hundred or four thousand. We are losing money because customers are unhappy."

Not only are the vendors losing money, but so are the banana growers, like Melchior.

"There are less bananas now. They have been attacked by diseases. The three bunches you see here were taken from my plantation. But you can realize they did not grow big. And when I bring them to sell at the market, I get very little money.

The first signs of the disease were spotted early in the year near the border with Tanzania.

Sebastien Ndikumagenge, the Agricultural Ministry's Director General believes the disease could have come from there.

"The banana blight is endemic in the region; it is in Ethiopia since 1968; in neighboring countries such as Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania, it's been there for more than ten years. It must have spread to Burundi from there"

In less than six months, the disease has spread to at least to five provinces in the East, South and West of Burundi.

The World Food and Agriculture organization FAO says finding a solution is necessary before the situation escalates.

FAO already has a joint project with UN's nuclear agency, the IAEA, to develop a mutant baby banana plant that can withstand harsh weather, drought and disease.

Pierre Lagoda is the Head IAEA Plant Breeding and Genetics Section:

"Some are getting old, some are getting destroyed by weather, some are getting destroyed by disease, so you have to continually to replenish these. But in the naturalized world, you have to normalize. And to be sure you have the same quality- nutritious quality- but also yield. You would have to have the very same plant. And the best way to have the very same plant is to clone it."

Meanwhile, FAO has set up an emergency unit in Burundi teaming up with local authorities to reach out to encourage farmers to cut off their infected plants.

Over half a million selected bananas shoots will be distributed in September to make sure farmers have plants free from the disease.

Jocelyne Sambira, United Nations.


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