The IITA scientists say until now, the scientific world believed that all banana varieties in the region, except for a wild-seeded banana called Musa balbisiana, were susceptible to the disease, which originated from Ethiopia and has now invaded all banana growing areas in the highlands of eastern and central Africa.
The disease is caused by Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum bacteria and its symptoms include yellowing and wilting of leaves, a cream to pale yellow bacteria-laded oozing when the plant is cut, shriveling of the male bud, premature ripening, internal discoloration of fruits, and finally death of infected plants.
Transmission is fast and mainly through contaminated tools, insect vectors, and planting material. Therefore, major investments by national programs, donors, and scientists have been geared towards rigorous monitoring of banana fields, removal of diseased plants, and decontaminating farm tools.
“This discovery is very important for the millions of smallholder banana farmers in the region as one of the most effective ways to control any disease is developing resistant varieties,” says Nakato, based in IITA, Uganda.
Bananas are an indispensable part of life in the region providing up to one-fifth of the total calorie consumption per capita. The average daily per capita energy from banana consumption in ECA is 147 kcal: 15 times the global average and 6 times the African average.
Other partners in the study included the University of Pretoria, South Africa, and Centre of the Region Haná for Biotechnological and Agricultural Research, Institute of Experimental Botany, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic.