A guest post by Lynn Paul Richardson:
Pressure on banana farmers, due to the Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV), has been steadily increasing over the past four years in East Hawaii. At first, we would rarely see an infection. One infection every three months at our farm in Kurtistown was manageable. There were no cases visible from the main public roads between Kurtistown and Hilo.
Two years ago I began to notice infections in the Kea‘au village area. Most were on the edges of papaya farms, with a few in nearby yards. Papaya farmers often grow a few banana mats on the edges of their fields for home use. We have been educating these farmers about the importance of treating and destroying the infected plants.
Since the beginning of this year, 2014, there has been a large increase in infected plants in homeowners' yards in Kurtistown, Kea‘au and Hilo. These infections also are increasing in subdivisions such as Paradise Park.
WE NOW FIND AND TREAT THREE TO FIVE INFECTIONS ON OUR FARM EVERY WEEK.
BBTV was discovered in Australia 100 years ago. Their method of control is the ONLY successful BBTV control program that exists today. Government inspectors monitor for the disease on a continuous basis. They are allowed to treat BBTV whenever and wherever they find it.
Homeowners are only allowed to plant bananas where they can be seen from the public roadways. All persons must obtain certificates stating that banana plants are disease free before they can be moved to new locations. This keeps the disease pressure low on farmers and hobbyists. Wild bananas are destroyed to prevent them from becoming reservoirs for BBTV.
If Hawaii fails to create an effective BBTV control program, only farms with large buffer zones will be possible in the not-too-distant future. Backyard patches will fail at increasingly higher rates until they no longer produce.
As farmers, we think it would be wise to copy what Australia has been doing successfully. We do not need to reinvent the wheel and risk failure.
It may be possible to create a genetically modified banana that can resist BBTV. The drawback would be the loss of the many cultivars Hawaii currently enjoys, as the economics would dictate that only a few varieties could be saved through GMO technology. Banana farmers would prefer the non-GMO method.
Hilo, Hawaii 96720