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FAO again warns against Panama disease

Why ‘matoke’ could soon be off the menu in Kenya

According to a statement by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Matoke, a staple food of many Kenyans, particularly the Abagusii community, is facing potential extinction. The FAO and experts have raised the red flag over a deadly fungal banana disease that is sweeping across the globe and posing serious danger to one of the most widely consumed fruits. The decline of production of bananas in Kisii, Meru and other areas is directly linked to Panama Disease (Fusarium wilt).

This is bad news to lovers of bananas, especially the Cavendish cultivar, which is popular for its taste but is also high in potassium, contains protein and can even help lower blood pressure. Apart from nutritional value, the banana is an important source of income and food security among smallholders and large-scale farmers.

The area under banana cultivation in Kenya was 52,102 hectares in 2014, with a total production of 1.43 million tons. Leading counties in banana production are Meru (14 per cent), Kirinyaga (12 per cent), Embu (10 per cent), Bungoma (8 per cent), Taita Taveta (7 per cent) Kisii (7 per cent), and Murang’a (6 per cent).

According to mediamaxnetwork.co.ke, the fears of the Cavendish going extinct evokes the memory of Gros Michel, a cultivar that was exterminated in 1965. The Gros Michel was declared commercially extinct due to the Panama disease, which started from Central America and quickly spread to most of the world’s commercial banana plantations.

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