The Musa Disease Management Unit has been working vigorously to serve plantain and banana farmers

Dear Editor,

The Ministry of Agriculture Musa Disease Management Unit (MDMU) would like to clarify some misconceptions contained in an article captioned ‘Plantain farmers count big losses after disease outbreak’ which was published in the Saturday, January 16, 2010 edition of Stabroek News.

The MUSA unit comprises 18 staff members and was established within the research arm of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), the National Agriculture Research Institute in September, 2009. Musa spp. (plantain and banana) is widely cultivated throughout the world and there are many diseases affecting plantain and banana around the world. Guyana is no different since preliminary reports indicate that there is a problem of an unknown disease that is affecting plantain and banana. Hence government has taken steps to address this concern with urgency.

Since the establishment of the unit, it has been functioning and working vigorously to serve the Musa spp. (plantain and banana) farmers across the country. Some of the activity and achievements are as follows:

Disease samples were collected from all the affected areas and sent to an international laboratory (CABI) in the United Kingdom for confirmation of the report using molecular methods. A survey of all the plantain and banana farmers across the country is approximately 75% completed. Staff of the MDMU, field officers and other officers of the MoA are at present in the field to evaluate the level/severity of the Musa disease(s) and provide farmers with advice on the disease management strategies currently available. Brochures on sigatoka disease and its management are being distributed to the farmers across the country.

Training sessions with all staff and many farmers were conducted in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 to enlighten them about the various diseases affecting plantains and bananas, how to identify them and how they can be managed/controlled, and their spread prevented,etc.

In addition, the MDMU has established demonstration plots for farmer participation in Regions 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and will expand to the other regions shortly. These demonstration plots aimed to show farmers the strategies that can be employed for the management/control of various Musa diseases.

Also a number of trials have been held for screening various chemicals (fungicides) across the country as part of disease management strategies.

Additionally,  within the last month the unit has established demonstration sites at the following areas in Region 3 – Parika Back, Ruby Back, Naamryck, Wakenaam Island, Hog Island, Bonasika; Region 4  – Relief on the East Bank, Mon Repos; Region 6 – Balchan Scheem, Moleson Creek; Region 5 – Mahaica Creek, etc, and so far the results are positive. Also farmers were advised on the various strategies that can be used to manage the disease such as good cultural practices which include

*regular de-trashing or de-leafing to remove dead and infected portion of leaves as these would contribute to re-infection and high levels of spore inoculum (Sanitation);

preventing overcrowding of the field by planting at the correct spacing (approx 2.4 m), and pruning mats at regular intervals;

*establishing an adequate/efficient drainage system;

*good weed management;

*good nematodes and other borer control;

*adequate fertilization;

*proper sanitation of farming tools (ie, disinfecting tools before and after use), etc.

Chemical control is used to complement cultural practices and is essential for the reduction of Black Sigatoka disease inoculum levels. Spraying with recommended fungicides in a well-planned spray programme, alternating (rotating) fungicides with the prevailing environmental conditions is vital for successful control. Some recommended fungicides are Bravo, Manzate, Benlate, Tilt, Carbendazim, Maximo, Bellis, Mancozeb, etc. (It is advisable that these fungicides be used at the recommended rates in a well-planned rotation schedule.)

The movement of rhizomes, suckers and leaves that could be carrying Musa disease from infested to clean areas should be restricted.

Free chemicals (fungicides) were provided to those farmers who have established demonstration plots with the unit for the training of farmers in the various areas.

For further information farmers and other interested persons are asked to make contact with the Musa Unit at telephone nos 220-2842 and 220-2249.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Agriculture’s Musa unit is disturbed that no attempt was made get the Ministry’s perspective on an inaccurate report made by anonymous farmers and an opposition politician.

Yours faithfully,Rajendra Persaud
Head of Musa Disease Management Unit

Editor’s note

Mr Persaud has not identified the “inaccuracies” he claims were contained in the report in our newspaper yesterday. That report was based on first-hand observations by the reporter and statements from some of the farmers whose plantains have been affected by the Black Sigatoka disease. The farmers did not want to be named, they said, for fear of “victimization.” The report was accompanied by photographs of the diseased plantains from affected farms, taken by the reporter.

We did speak to an official in the Ministry of Agriculture as well as one in the Musa Disease Management Unit on Monday about the ministry’s response to Black Sigatoka. What the officials had to say is reflected in a separate report we carried in our Tuesday edition, captioned ‘Agriculture unit surveying farms for Black Sigatoka presence.’ The day before (Monday) we had published the contents of a Ministry of Agriculture notice on the subject which had appeared in Sunday Stabroek.

We repeated this information in our story yesterday, stating that extension officers had been deployed across the country, and explaining that a unit had been set up to focus on Black Sigatoka disease. For the benefit of farmers and the public we included too the hotline telephone numbers given again by Mr Persaud above.

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