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Guyana fighting Black Sigatoka disease to resume plantain exports

Researchers, extension officers and farmers at the Black Sigatoka disease training workshop at NAREI

Guyana’s plantain exports have been wiped out because of the deadly Black Sigatoka disease but a top agriculture scientist  hopes that farmers and several extension officers will from Friday be better equipped to manange the disease.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Agriculture Research and Extension Institute (NAREI) , Dr. Oudho Homenauth told the Government Information Agency (GINA) that Guyana registered a 100 percent slump in its plantain export, due to the Black Sigatoka disease, and is among a few lucky Caribbean countries, benefitting from the training. According to Dr. Homenauth, the other beneficiaries are Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St Lucia.

Farmers from the 10 Administrative Regions, along with several Ministry of Agriculture’s Researchers and Extension Officers are now benefitting from a two-week training workshop that is seeking to strengthen their capacity in the management of the Black Sigatoka disease.

The Government Information Agency (GINA) said the capacity-building workshop commenced on September 28, and will end on October 9. The sessions, held at NAREI, Mon Repos, East Coast Demerara, came under the aegis of the CaNARribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI)/Caribbean Development Bank funded “Development of an Integrated Disease Management Programme for Black Sigatoka.”

Two experts, trained in managing of the disease, are conducting the workshop, which Dr. Homenauth explained focuses on identifying the disease in its initial stage, thereby reducing the use of fungicides to control and eradicate the disease.

“Once you can identify it at the very beginning, you can manage it,” Dr. Homenauth explained. According to him, the idea is to limit the use of the chemicals, thereby reducing not only the cost of production, but the environmental impact, as “… unless the infection is at a certain level, there is no need to use chemicals, so they are teaching them how you can look at the leaves with a hand lens, and determine the severity of the disease, before they actually use chemicals,” he explained.

Black Sigatoka is a fungal, airborne disease that affects the leaves at the opening of the plantain plant. At the initial stage of the disease, a spot appears at the leaves at the very top of the plant. If this spot is cut off very early, it can prevent the spread of the disease. However, if the infection spreads, the edge of the leaves will start becoming yellow then brown and finally dying.

A few years ago, around 2009-2010, Guyana and the region had issues with the disease. In Guyana, the rampant spread of the disease reduced plantain production to nothing.

However since Guyana has fared better, after seeking technical assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) it started to implement its recommended safety practices (including sanitation, liming, fertilising), in collaboration with the farming communities, and now the country is heading back to where it was before the disease invaded.

The result is that the country was able to gradually increase again its plantain production. Following these approaches the country was able to get plantain production back to 17,000 tonnes in 2013, and to 30,000 tonnes in 2014.

According to Dr. Homenauth this figure is expected to increase by another 20-30 percent in 2015, as the Ministry continues its education programme with farmers and Extension Officers on techniques that are available.