Dominica will be importing banana plants from France as the island continues to struggle to contain the deadly Black Sigatoka virus.
Some 20,000 plants will soon be on the island and about 20 farmers will be engaged in the first phase of the project which falls under the EU-funded Banana Accompany Measures (BAM), Agriculture Minister, Johnson Drigo said.
“One of the components of the BAM, which is very important for us going forward, is the purchase some 40,000 banana plants from France,” he explained. “What government has gone, with the directive of the Prime Minister, we have fast track, for want of a better word, this project. Government is presently preparing to procure some 20,000 plants of bananas from France.”
He noted that when the plants get to Dominica, they will be held at the SMART Facility in Portsmouth for “weaning and hardening” and this will take “a couple months.”
“Then these plants will be delivered to targeted farmers in the first instance,” Johnson said. “Some 20 farmers will be targeted for some five-acre plots. This will be followed by, incrementally, the support of the BAM …”
Johnson said the project is important because it will allow farmers a fresh opportunity to get technical support in fighting Black Sigatoka.
“We will be able to assist the farmers with all the technical support and caring that these plants are going to be needing in order to ensure that the Black Sigatoka disease doesn’t get a hold on these news plants,” he stated.
Johnson noted that the structure of the National Fair Trade Organization will be strengthened.
“And that is why the Ministry of Agriculture itself is going to give Fair Trade additional support from the quarantine unit to extension to ensure that once this variety of plants are ready and they are in the soil, Fair Trade and the farmers will get all of the support they need and then we will gradually expand the process over time,” he noted.
A consultant will also be employed by the Ministry of Agriculture to fight the disease.
Black Sigatoka is a leaf spot disease of banana plants caused by ascomycete fungus and its presence was confirmed in Dominica in June 2012.
The banana sector was dealt a huge blow when Winfresh announced it was suspending the purchase of bananas from Dominica because of poor quality of fruits caused by the disease.
Banana farmers have been complaining that enough is not being done to contain the disease.
Last week the Ministry of Agriculture said funds were approved to begin a project of frequent spraying.
Other islands stricken by Black Sigatoka, such as St. Lucia, have managed to control the disease and are reporting record banana exports.