The coming of Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) in Malawi tripled trouble for widows who rely on banana production for survival in Nkhatabay.
Emily Phiri, a widow who has eight children in the area of village headman Villanga, Traditional Authority Timbiri in the district, describes her experience of losing her only farm to BBTV as bad.
She recalls her life experience before the deadly virus as somehow different from the disheartened present, as she has no source of hope for her family.
“I relied on the farm for food and money and now that it is gone to BBTV, my daughter who is schooling at Bandawe secondary school, has been withdrawn from studies due to fees and I have nowhere to source funds,” she said.
“Losing my banana farm has also brought hunger in my family. I don’t have food to feed my eight children and as a woman living in remote area, I have nowhere to source food.”
Somewhat, her situation may be a bit better than that of Tadala Banda, another widow, who is struggling to take care of her five children plus four orphans, in the area of village headman Khwalala, Traditional Authority Malengamzoma in the same district.
After the death of her husband in 2001, her in-laws grabbed all property, including farmlands where she was growing cassava. She struggled to secure another land where she invested her everything in banana production.
“I then started growing bananas because they are simple and cheap to cultivate here. But with the coming of BBTV, I was told to destroy all the bananas from my farm. The news got into my nerves. I got more confused because I have nowhere to source hope to keep my family going apart from the farm,” she told this reporter.
This happened concurrently with the selection of her first born son, Emmanuel, to study clinical medicine at Malawi College of Health Sciences in Zomba on self-sponsored basis.
Much as the news might have brought celebration to some, to Banda the happiness was short-lived as it was fused with worries of where she would source funds for her son’s school fees.
“He didn’t even go to register because, I had no money for transport from here to Zomba. It pains me because my son really wanted to study medicine, in fact, he would have been the only one to be educated in our family,” she regrets.
The two are among 12 widows who are facing the wrath of this world after Agricultural authorities ordered them to destroy their banana farms as one way of eradicating BBTV.
The virus which affects the productivity of bananas is said to have come from Tanzania.
Nonetheless, there is a sigh of relief among the widows, as the Agriculture Sector Wide Approach (ASWAP) project aims to revive banana production in the district.
The project, which is funded by the World Bank is expected to distribute virus free banana suckers, which are currently being prepared at Lunyangwa research station to farmers in Nkhatabay.
According to Agriculture research scientist at Lunyangwa research station, Nathan Kachiguma, the sucker’s distribution exercise is expected to commence in June.
“That’s our target and by the said date, we are expected to produce about 100,000 suckers. However the suckers will only be distributed to farmers who have destroyed their farms for fear of contaminating the virus free suckers,” he said.
District Agriculture Development Officer (DADO) for Nkhatabay, Yaz Nyirenda, has hope that the project will go on smoothly because at least, they have capacity, courtesy of financial support from ASWAP project.
“At least, through this project, farmers are convinced that destroying their affected crops, is the beginning of revival of banana production, unlike before, when they were not aware of the virus. It’s my hope that things will go on well with the available funding,” he said.
“It is through the same project where farmers are being educated on how to identity affected crops and how to destroy them,” he added.
Separate findings indicate that Banana production, once well empowered, can be an easy but very strong tool of eradicating poverty among people in rural areas.
According to data our reporter sourced at Chingulube Banana Farmers’ Cooperative in Nkhatabay, through the produce, farmers are able to accumulate bananas worth MK5 million.
Chairman of the cooperative, Daniel Phiri, urged government and other well-wishers to consider supporting the banana production, citing that it is equally a vital industry to the country’s economic growth.
“There is money and prosperity in bananas. I just urge well wishes to help us deal with BBTV and thereafter, they must establish a stable market for the produce. Lives will improve here in remote areas,” he said.
Meanwhile, with the scarcity of bananas due to BBTV, traders are importing the produce from Tanzania and Zambia for supply in Malawi.