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Tanzanian research teams are tackling banana wilt disease

Research teams in Tanzania are challenging the banana wilt disease that affects the growth of bananas. The research is conducted by researchers from the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the CGIAR research program on roots, tubers and banana (RTB).

The disease called 'fusarium wilt', a soil borne agent, is being spread by the fungus called fusarium oxysporum fsp Cubense. It enters the roots systems of banana plants and blocks the uptake of nutrients and water. The disease causes the yellowing of leaves, splitting of the pseudosten, and the eventual death of the banana plant.

It is difficult to control as it cannot be managed by synthetic pesticides/fungicides and therefore continues to spread easily as farmers exchange planting materials (banana suckers), water and movement of people and equipment.

A statement issued by IITA yesterday in Dar es Salaam said all traditional East Africa highland cooking bananas and some desert bananas like Sukari Ndizi, are susceptible to this disease. However, it was observed that only some of the plants died after infection.

The researchers sought to understand why this is so by studying the microorganisms, bacteria and fungi surrounding the roots as well as in the roots. This is known as the soil microbiome.

Systems agronomist for IITA who led the study, Manoj Kaushal said: "This study allowed us to have a better understanding of the root microbiome in bananas that can be harnessed to develop new disease management tools in Mchare, based on beneficial microorganisms (endophytes and biological control agents) for smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa".

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