Friday, April 24, 2009

Bananas, by Cory

Bananas are one of the most important foods of the world. * Since they produce in about one year, are high in nutrition, and growing them doesn't cause much erosion, they are a great crop for tropical countries like Haiti. They don't need Haiti's scarce cooking fuel to prepare.
Unfortunately their production is limited in many places by two relatively new diseases.

Photos all from Fauche, Haiti.

Panama disease is a fungus that kills the plant when it is large, but usually before it produces fruit. It can live in the soil more than 30 years so the only solution is to plant resistant varieties or plant in new uninfected areas. The garden at Fauche was planted to bananas and plantains (cooking bananas) about 18 months ago but part of the garden was already infected or planted with infected plants so a few months ago some of the "Orinoco Burro" type bananas started dying. The disease is sneaky and although it is widespread in north Haiti I didn't recognise it until last Fall. Now I see it all the time when driving. Bananas make offshoots that are separated from the parent to plant in new gardens. Infected offshoots look healthy until they are at least 5 or more feet tall so the disease is easily spread by healthy-looking, infected planting material.

The other serious banana disease that is a problem in our area is Black Sigatoka leaf spot. This
 one is also sneaky since it takes the leaves about two months to be killed. The plants have several young healthy looking leaves but they don't live long enough for the plant to build up energy to put into fruit. Any soil deficiencies are magnified since slower growing plants have fewer leaves at any one time. In humid areas like ours, yields can drop more than 50%

Cavendish is the main commercial banana exported to the temperate zone. It is usually sprayed weekly to control sigatoka leaf spot. This can cost over $1,000 per acre per year and isn't practical for the small farmer or gardener.

Visiting teams comment on how much better the Haitian bananas are than the ones in the States. I wondered, while researching the internet for resistant banana varieties, what variety the "French banana" is that we appreciate so much. I haven't seen the plants from the road or in neighbors gardens. It sells for about twice the price of the Cavendish bananas. Cavendish tend to stay green in the tropics and they tend to spoil easily if you buy them unripe.

Last year I bought two "french banana" plants for about $5 each which is the price of several dozen of the common local varieties. We used a "rapid propagation" technique to get several plants from each. I was told they don't multiply fast but now they are making many offshoots. They look like Cavendish plants except that they are more resistant to leaf spot.

I finally realized that this could be the variety called Gros Michel or 'Big Mike', the#1 commercial banana until Panama Disease forced the change to 'Cavendish' in the 1950's &60's. That explains why the 'French banana' is hard to find and sells out in the markets by mid morning. But there is a lot of land in the hills that hasn't been infected and Gros Michel survives as a garden variety even though it is extinct on plantations.

More than 90% of the local bananas and plantains are 3 types: 'Orinoco burro' which is resistant to leaf spot but susceptible to Panama Disease. The other two are Cavendish and False Horn Plantain which are very susceptible to leaf spot but resistant to Panama Disease.

I couldn't find more than a few resistant varieties[then just a few plants] in North Haiti so I've imported several varieties from Agristarts. They are resistant to both diseases and will multiply to replace or at least supplement the local varieties:

FHIA 1/Goldfinger. Sold in Canada and some other countries as an organic banana since it doesn't need sprays. Yield is high but opinion on flavor varies so it hasn't replaced Cavendish yet. It is resistant to the new strain of Panama Disease that is killing Cavendish in Australia and some other countries.

Misi Luki. Probably the same as 'Mysore' pictured here in our back yard. A delicious sweet, thin skinned banana.

Cardaba and Kandarian. May be a good substitutes similar to the burro bananas that are dying off. Usually cooked when green and used like potatoes, also very good fresh when ripe.

An internet article described these banana diseases as "diabolical" since many communities in the tropics depend on bananas and plantains as staple foods and these diseases result in hunger and poverty. I believe there is truth to that evaluation. There is spiritual war going on all over the world. The devil and demons lost the war at the cross but are still trying to destroy everything that God has made. People, made in God's image, are the focus of the attack. The rest of creation also suffers. Agriculture is a constant struggle to stay ahead of disease and pests. We look forward to the new heaven and new earth where there will be no sickness, death, and nothing will do harm or hurt. Until then we need to depend on God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus for strength to not tire of doing good.

I have been fascinated with plants since I was a small child. I have enjoyed planting a wide variety of plants in Haiti, knowing God designed them. If I don't get to eat the fruit that has been planted and others do, that is OK. I look forward to returning to Haiti soon and sharing with the churches and neighbors so that they have better food to eat. I also enjoy sharing what Jesus has done to help us in this life and encourage people spiritually.

* "The Most Important Disease of a most Important fruit."


Tara B. said...

Very interesting and insightful! I have never given that much thought to bananas before.

I am curious now about these "cooking" bananas. Never have heard of but alone ate a cooked banana before..

Peter Olson said...

Are there any other natural means of fighting these diseases besides going to a new variety or hybrid plant?
How does the disease spread from one plant to the next?
I know you are talking about more than one disease so there is probably more than one answer to that question.
I really like your spiritual analogy for this situation.

Cory & Kris Thede said...

I don't know any other good natural controls.The leaf spot spreads on the wind during wet weather. The other one travels in infected soil or tools or streams/erosion but usually when people carry plants around. A neighbor took some of the bulbs from sick bananas I had cut down without my permission even though the pastor in charge of the campus told him they were sick. I also wonder about the trunks of sick plants that they carry off to feed cows.