There are reports that over 8,000 residents of 15 villages in Kagera Region are in urgent need of relief food following the outbreak of crop disease that has destroyed 90 per cent of their banana farms.
Bananas are the staple food for most of the region’s population, which means the development promises to have disastrous and long-term consequences for hundreds of thousand if not millions of people.
The Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives ministry declared in the National Assembly in Dodoma on Tuesday that the region is in urgent need of 266 tonnes of food aid to offset the destruction the disease has caused.
But at least one legislator has been heard wondering why the government appears reluctant to use what he referred to as a scientific approach to combat the disease.
He said as much after the Agriculture ministry announced that the government had set aside 300 tonnes of maize for distribution to those staring starvation in the face owing to the destruction the banana disease has caused.
While the intervention is sure to help in the short run, we see this way of dealing with the emergency posing more questions than it answers.
The Agriculture deputy minister talked about plans to dispatch experts to Kagera Region for a first-hand account of the situation on the ground, before possibly recommending more remedial action.
This does not sound very convincing in that the deputy minister admits that the disease is not all that new in the region, with records showing that it has spread from Uganda and was first diagnosed at Kabare in Tanzania’s Muleba District in 2005.
The disease makes banana leaves turn yellowish and causes premature yellowing of the bananas themselves, not sparing even a single species of the crop.
This is saddening indeed because it is understood that various species of plantains grow in different parts of our country. Therefore, failure to act as swiftly and scientifically as circumstances demand will give more room for the disease to spread to wreak real havoc on the crop.
This is as clear as daylight, and the government has already admitted that the disease has spread to all districts in Kagera Region as well as Tarime, Ukerewe and Kibondo districts.
But one unanswered question is remains why, while all this was well known before 2005, the government did not check its spread early enough to prevent greater damage.
What is even more worrying is that geography has made Kagera Region one of the major routes through which a range of dangerous human, animal and plant diseases that have spread to other parts of the country and our part of the globe generally.
Considering the danger to which this exposes our country, we need to be especially vigilant, with the government putting up centres to alert the nation accordingly before crop diseases strike deep into our farms or food stores.
Dispatching experts after tragedy strike should go alongside having our people also need to be appropriately informed on the status of their own health, the health of their animals and the state of their crops.
The banana disease has engaged us in a war. We must fight it and all others in earnest.