The Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) has expressed its commitment to assist the agricultural sector to fight the Banana Bunchy Top Disease (BBTD) should it break out in the country.
The BBTD, one of the most devastating banana diseases, is caused by a virus that also attacks plantain.
The disease has wreaked havoc around the world, resulting in huge economic losses.The BBTD is endemic in East Africa and, in recent times, it has been found in Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin and Togo.
The Manager of the Biotechnology Centre at the BNARI, Dr Andrew Sarkodie Appiah, made the commitment last Wednesday during an interaction with officials of the Commercialisation and Communication Directorate of GAEC.
He noted that the commission had the technologies, such as tissue culture and mutation breeding, to help manage the disease in the short and long terms, respectively, if it was found in the country.
He emphasised GAEC-BNARI’s commitment to collaborate with the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSD) of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to take the necessary steps to ensure quality checks at the ports of entry and, when necessary, produce disease-free planting materials.
"We have a state-of-the-art laboratory and the expertise to support the PPRSD to prevent the disease from causing harm to the economy. We already collaborate and work on projects with the directorate, so our collaboration will not be new," Dr Appiah noted.
Dr Appiah, who is also a plant virologist, said the BBTD was found in Togo in 2018, and that although reports suggested that it had been contained and prevented from spreading beyond the borders of Togo, there was a possibility that it might be lurking along the eastern borders of Ghana.
"Given the socio-cultural dynamics of our borders and the fact that they are quite porous, there is the need for the country to clear all doubts that our banana and plantain are safe and free from this devastating disease," he said.
The plant virologist stressed the importance of carrying out thorough investigations in the border communities as soon as possible to ensure that the BBTD had not entered the country.
“That will pave the way for the necessary steps to be taken to either prevent it from crossing the border or apply the technologies required to produce new plants free from the disease,” Dr Appiah added.
He explained that once plants were infected, it took a long time for the disease to manifest itself, which made it dangerous for the banana and plantain industry and the country’s economy at large.
He said the disease had spread through a vector called banana aphids, and that it could gain access to the country through transboundary trade.
"Long-distance transmission is also facilitated by human movement of infected plant materials," Dr Appiah added.
"Given the current economic crisis, it will really be double jeopardy if this disease gains access to the country, and even more so if steps are not taken quickly to produce disease-free plants,” he said.
“Bear in mind that plantain in particular is one of the main staple foods in the country, with Ghana being the largest producer of plantain in West Africa and the second in Africa," he said.
Dr Appiah indicated that what GAEC-BNARI would need was research funding support for the project, as well as tax exemption on the reagents to be used in the laboratory.
He made an appeal to farmers to be educated on the signs and symptoms of the disease to enable them to identify and report it to the appropriate authorities.
Some of the signs and symptoms of the disease included stunted growth, bunchy tops or rosette appearance, yellowing of leaf margins, a drastic reduction in yield and, in extreme cases, a complete loss of fruit production, Dr Appiah explained.