Disease Control

Banana disease framework for containing emerging disease spread in sub-Saharan Africa*

The food security and livelihoods of millions of people in who cultivate banana and plantain in sub-Saharan Africa are under severe threat from emerging diseases,

  • Banana bunchy top disease (BBTD), present in 16 countries as of 2017 [Angola, Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia], has gained international notoriety because, once established, it spreads rapidly and is almost impossible to eradicate. This disease caused by Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) is transmitted by ubiquitously distributed the banana aphid, Pentalonia nigronervosa, and also through movement of infected planting material.
  • Banana bacterial wilt disease (BBW), also known as banana Xanthomonas wilt or BXW, first recognized in Ethiopia, is already devastating production in the Great Lakes Region of Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The disease mainly spreads through contact, movement of infected planting material, bees, and contact with infected plants and debris.
  • Banana fungal wilt (FoC TR4), caused by Fusarium oxypsorum sp. cubense Tropical Race 4 (FoC TR4), first reported in Mozambique. This pathogen occurrence was not reported from other African countries. The disease mainly spreads through soil, wind-borne spores, contact with infected plants and debris and movement of infected planting materials.

These diseases can rapidly kill banana plants or virtually eliminate production of any consumable fruit causing severe production and economic losses each year.


Fig 1. Country-wise distribution of three emerging disease threats to banana and plantain in Africa as of 2021

Fig 1. Country-wise distribution of three emerging disease threats to banana and plantain in Africa as of 2021

Farmers can protect their crop from these threes diseases by following good production practices, including use of healthy planting materials from the known sources; field sanitation practices such as the use of clean cutting tools and planting materials, and removal of male flower buds to control BXW.

Countries where these disease are already established need to plan containment strategies to prevent further expansion of the pathogens and implement production recovery practices. Countries where these pathogens do not occur should be vigilant and increase surveillance efforts to monitor the movement of planting materials to prevent spread.

Urgent action by national research organizations and governments in sub-Saharan Africa, international research organizations, and development partners is necessary to avert or reduce the impact of these pathogens.

Recommendations to combat BBTD  

In countries where BBTD has established requires active management and control programs to mitigate the impact of the disease on banana production. Arrangements must be made to provide safe replanting material on a sufficient scale to encourage farmers to take the necessary action to destroy diseased plants so as to safeguard and sustain production.

To prevent infection and further spread of BBTD, unaffected countries need to increase vigilance and take preemptive action to destroy infected plants as soon as they appear. Monitoring strategies, capacity to recognize the diseases and to deploy rapid eradication responses are vital.

Fig 2. Preventive and curative control options for mitigating BBTD impact in Africa

Fig 2. Preventive and curative control options for mitigating BBTD impact in Africa

Farmers must be sensitized to the importance of BBTD and mobilized to report and combat them at the first sign of appearance.

Large-scale community-level action will be needed, supported by local and national governments and sub-regional organizations. Countries with banana and plantain production— whether at commercial or subsistence level— should allocate funds to put in place:

  • Large-scale campaigns for disease awareness, surveillance, training of sufficient staff in field disease recognition, and laboratory diagnosis, and the production and distribution of clean planting material to respond to any disease outbreaks.
  • Community-level measures to support actions in response to the diseases, helping to ensure local adherence to recommended practices.
  • Reporting and communication systems to ensure an early and appropriate reaction once the diseases have been recognized at field level, and to monitor the success of eradication and management practices.
  • Improved arrangements for production of clean and quality planting materials through training and facilities and ensure that these are made available on a sufficiently large-scale to farmers.
  • National contingency plans developed with the involvement of all concerned with banana disease management, including the creation or strengthening of national task forces to ensure country preparedness to implement disease eradication campaigns and monitor the impact of these efforts.
  • Other longer-term programs to improve field practices for disease eradication (for countries where invasion is recent) and management (where diseases are already established); and also to include information sharing, and update of policy frameworks, such as plant health/quarantine legislation.

These actions are essential and need to be deployed as a matter of urgency and then sustained.

International research and development partners, regional, and sub-regional organizations and the national authorities must affirm their commitment to collaborate on regional responses to BBTD, to ensure coordination of activities and optimal use of resources to provide technical advice, develop sustainable new technologies, and deploy eradication and management practices across sub-Saharan Africa.  

*Adopted from ‘Disease Management Framework’ developed as part of the International Workshop on BBTV, BXW: Meeting the challenges of emerging disease threats to banana and strategies for raising awareness, surveillance and management of these diseases in sub-Sharan Africa, 24-28 August 2009, Arusha, Tanzania, organized by FAO, IITA, Bioversity International, and SADC. http://www.bbtvalliance.org/?p=65

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