A new threat to banana farming in East Africa
A bacterial wilt caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum is spreading through East Africa. Previously known only in Ethiopia—where it affects bananas and its close relative Ensete—the disease is called Banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW) but is also known as Banana bacterial wilt. Unlike most other diseases, which mainly reduce yield, it affects the fruit and eventually kills the entire plant.
How to recognize the symptoms of BXW?
The disease causes premature ripening and rotting of the fruit. Some of the symptoms, such as yellow and wilted leaves, are reminiscent of Fusarium wilt, but unlike the latter, BXW also affects the male bud and bunch. The pulp of infected fruit is discolored and rotten, unsuitable for consumption by humans or animals. The bacteria spread rapidly through the entire plant, and bacteria-laden exudates provide the means of transmission to new plants by insects and contaminated tools.
Facts and Myths about BXW
Since the start of the BXW outbreak, development partners have collaborated on raising awareness about what to do should the disease strike. Small-scale farmers who have heeded these recommendations have been able to considerably reduce the incidence of new infections. However, misconceptions have also been spreading as rapidly as the disease.
How BXW disease spreads between plants
The bacteria need living material to multiply. Research suggests that the bacteria cannot survive for extended periods of time in soil, water and dead plant materials such as dry leaves. The disease is mainly transmitted when bacteria are carried from one plant to another. Insects and farm tools are the main agents of transmission.
How the disease spreads through the plant
The progress of the disease in a plant and its associated suckers, the stool, will vary according to the point of entry in the plant. Being able to recognize the development stage of the disease is important in deciding which management strategy should be applied.
Regardless of where they live, East African banana farmers need to be informed about BXW and what they can do to prevent Its arrival or contain its spread. Farmers living in disease-free areas need to know which measures can protect their plants from the disease and, failing that, which ones can be used to manage the disease should it appear. These measures are the same for farmers living at the front line and in endemic areas.
Banana Xanthomonas wilt disease hand out
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