DSC Lecture by Clayton A Shillingford, PhD
Banana production and the effect of pests and diseases on productivity
Emphasis was placed on the selection of short varieties which come to harvest earlier and are easier to manage in the field. Ongoing research to improve varieties are undertaken by institutions like the International Network for the Improvement of Bananas and Plantains based in Montpellier, France with several stations in the new world, Asian and African Tropics. Conventional breeding and genetic engineering techniques are now being utilized to find high yielding varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases.
Banana establishment can be improved by using tissue culture meristem plantlets as planting material instead of rhizome "seed" pieces. Test tube meristem plantlets developed in the laboratory are generally free from disease.
Bananas should be grown on the best flat or gently sloping soils with good drainage and with irrigation. In Dominican plantations there is urgent need to implement on a wider scale management practices such as proper desuckering, propping or guying and control of the insect root borer and microscopic nematodes which ravage the underground parts of the plant and result in toppling. Many plantations suffer as much as 40% yield loss through toppling resulting in yields as low as 5 tonnes per acre compared to competitors in the French Antilles and elsewhere who get 15 to 20 tonnes. Other key practices include bunch bagging, and debudding to accelerate fruit maturity and preserve premium quality. With these improved farm management practices plantations should last for at least 10 years without replanting. Banana is a permanent crop. Our competitors except in response to strong wind or hurricane damage do not practice replanting.
The leaf diseases also need to be controlled. Yellow Sigatoka or leaf spot is in Dominica but not the more virulent Black Sigatoka. Effective quarantine measures should be in place to prevent the introduction of the latter.
The Dominican industry is in crisis. Production is way below the quota and farmers are leaving the industry. Resuscitation will only come from aggressive farmer education in best practices and provision of material, financial and extension support.
DSC first year students were very receptive and we were engaged in very fruitful discussions.
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