M.H. Panhwar



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            An epidemic in banana appeared in Sindh and in less than two years the banana is wiped out, Farmers do not know where to go. Below is an analysis by the author.


Banana Varieties in Sindh


Sindh has two varieties of banana.


(a)        Cavendish dwarf (Basrai)

(b)        Cavendish Giant (William Hybrid)


(a)        Cavendish Dwarf or Basrai












(b)       William Hybrid banana













The New Banana Diseases


            Unfortunately a new disease (virus according to this author) spread by aphids, has wiped out the plantations of both of the above two varieties. Economy of southern Sindh below Nawabshah has depended on banana since 1960. The thirty year boom has been brought to an end by the above disease. We have to diagnose the disease, find remedy or replace variety.


Spread of the Disease


            The present banana disease (Bunch top) appeared in the coastal areas of Sindh some 2-1/2 year ago in fall 1988. Unconfirmed reports of Banana disease in India were in vogue since 1987. It was reported in Gujarat India in early 1988 and hit Sindh within a year. It is not certain if the disease in India is the same as in Sindh.


It is not a simple disease of local phenomenon. It could have come from India or could move from here to India and South-East Asia. It is very serious epidemic and can affect the world banana plantations sooner or later.

The early reports in Pakistan were that it was Panama disease, which had devasted large area in the Central America. This diagnosis was not acceptable to me as both Basrai and William varieties of Sindh are immune to this disease. Since the problem had started in coastal area of Sindh, I could not get the first hand information. Disease just travelled too fast and at a rate of 1 mile a week. In June, 1990 it was reported in Hosri adjacent to Hyderabad about 80 miles north-east of coast where it appeared first. Two months later in mid august I found a few diseased plants on my farm 14 miles east of Hyderabad. In November, 1990 it had reached Sekhat about 22 miles north of Hyderabad. Areas north of Sekhat were free in winter 1990 but they would be devasted up to Nawabshah before mid summer of 1991. With this will come to end, the thirty year story of banana boom in Sindh and cheap availability of it in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. The disease came to Sindh so fast, that no scientist had time to be aware of it.


I had an American visitor Dr. Ostmark in January, 1989. He was working as Director of Tropical fruit research in Honduras and as a banana disease specialist, dr. Stover in his recent (1987) book on bananas, We had not heard of any banana disease in Sindh also showed him number of other farms, growing Basrai. He declared the banana in Pakistan was remarkably disease free and this was a new home for new varieties. When disease finally reached my farm I had a number of trunks removed from roots, dissected and examined the symptoms showed the following sequence:



Conclusions after investigation


            The examination of dissection and subsequent analysis made me reach the conclusions that:



I have been working on introducing new fruit varieties for Sindh and have introduced peaches, plums, apples, jojoba, jatropha, grapes in Hyderabad area, and feel that we could bring new banana cultivars suiting environments Sindh. They should be free from major banana diseases.


New varieties of bananas should be free from symptoms of bunchy top and Panama disease. This requirement is very difficult to meet.


v     Gros Michel a variety of the Central America is highly susceptible; to Panama disease, though it is resistant to Freckle. It has two types like Cavendish group, the tall 20 feet height, and dwarf 10-15 feet fall.


v     Cavendish variety already known in Sindh is susceptible to: Freckle but not Panama disease. Its dwarf varieties (Basrai and others) are susceptible to finger rot and choke-throat. The William is susceptible to Freckle and nematodes; where as dwarf (Basrai) is less susceptible to nematodes. Both have been susceptible to Bunchy top virus.


Valery (of Taiwan or North banana


            It is 10-15 ft tall with 25-45 Kg. weight. It can stand cool weather but is susceptible to wind damage. Its yield is too low and about half of the present varieties.


Hamuka (Bungulan Moule Criston)


            25 tall, 20-45 Kg bunch. It has poor keeping quality and is susceptible to wind damage. Its yield is also low and almost at par with Valery.




            These problems with major varieties leave a very small scope for selection & the search cannot be limited to picking sucker of new variety off the rack.


            Let us therefore have a look to the leading varieties:


Production per acre, of various types of banana else where and scaling them to possible yields in Sindh as compared to William Hybrid.




William Hybrid

8 - 12 tons


6 – 9 tons


4 – 5 tons


7 – 8 tons


3 -4 tons


Diseases of Banana


            The yield per acre discussed above in general for a new variety is discouraging to Sindh conditions and farmers will not grow them unless prices are increased, a yet another improbability.


            It is essential to know a bit about banana diseases. They may give some insight into what new type to introduce.


a)         Panama disease or Panama Wilt

            It is wild disease, caused by soil borne fungus (Fusgrium Oxyspornm Cubenesis). It has done untold damage to Gros Michel variety. Bluefield bananas are specially susceptible. Plant often dies before bunch is fully mature the disease carrying organisms is spread through infected rhizomes, banana trash, machetes, soil and irrigation water.           

There is no chemical control and the only practical method is replace Gros Michel with Cavendish group.

(b)       Singatoka

            It is caused by Mycosphaerella muslcola.

            It results into low productivity by reducing photosynthetic area, due to destroying of leaf tissue, but it does not kill the plantations altogether.

(c)        Bunchy top.

            Bunchy top is viral disease discussed above.

Spread of virus is by aphids, which are blown by wind. Once a plant is affected aphids move from that plant to other and pass the disease on to others. Aphids travel long distances, when blown by winds.




Control of banana aphids can be achieved by systemic insecticides like: Roger R, demeto-s-methly (metasistox). But regular monthly sprayers over the whole of Southern Sindh are too un-practical unless aerial spray is resorted to.


Destroying all infected plants and spray with kerosene or oil


(d)       Moko

            It is caused by the strain of Bacterium Pseudo monassalano ceamm.


(e)        Nematodes

They are found to be less damaging, specially if plantation has vigour, brought about by improved health, rich soil and nutrients.


(f)        Banana skipper.

            It curls banana leaves, but it has a predator and can be biologically controlled.


(g)        Black leaf streak.

            If attacks leaves by yellowing them and producing leaf lesions


(h)        Prickle

            It is a fungal disease and produces black or dark brown spots on leaves and fruits.

            It is common on Chinese, William and Brazilian varieties of Cavendish

It can easily be controlled by sprays of Cuprarit, Zineb or mancozeb.

Cu is avoided, as it leaves green colour on the surface of fruit.


(i)         Black leaf streak. (Mycosphaerella fijiensis).

Reddish brown speeks on leaf surface parallel to the leaf vein. Control is by oil sprays and cuprarit, Zineb and mancozeb, every 6 weeks during rainy season.


( j)        Cigar-end (Hendersonula troloides).

            It is caused by a fungus and is controlled by cupavid, zineb and mancozeb.


(k)        Nematodes of various types.


These are controlled by chemicals, like Nemacure and others.

The other methods of control are:

Use or fallowed lands for new plantations.


l)         Black Sigataka (Produced by Fungris).


Control is very difficult except replacement of variety.



Banana Skipper



Bealy Bugs



Where do we go from here?





            Pakistan’s cheapest fruit banana, has 1000 k, calories per kg of edible portion of ripe fruit and 3400 kilo calories per kg of dried flour as compared to 3400 k. calories sugar, 800 for mango, 240 for papaya, 500 for orange, 1420 for dates and 1140  for Chicku. Thus banana has been food, fruit and sugar of common and rich population, of not only Pakistan but also countries to which it is exported from Pakistan, i.e., Afghanistan, Iran and Persian gulf countries, since past 30 years. This cheap fruit of common man in these Third World countries is now threatened with extinction by a virus. About 80% plantations are affected. Balance 20% will be affected by the middle of this year.


            Production of bananas has already reduced to 50%. By end of 1991 it is going to come down to 25% and less in 1992.


            Banana is going to turn into a Pakistani fruit which anthropologist will call, “The fruit that once was”. This is only five years away.


            Virus came like a swift storm. It travelled like sea wave with front of 80 miles, travelled one mile a week and wiped away banana plantations at rate of eighty square mile a week, covering more than 100 miles length from Sakro and Ghorabari to Sekhat and Mirpurkhas in tow years.

            In next six months it is going to wipe out banana Nawabshah district. It is a calamity un-heard of in Sindh’s history of agriculture. 


            Each plantation is affected from about 50-100% depending on time of arrival. At this rate virus should wipe out total plantations by end of 1993 or latest 1994,


            Even during the worst crisis of Afghanistan War, a minimum 50 truck loads (500 tons) of banana were carried to Jalalabad and Kabul everyday. Some times it was more.


Banana also went to Iran via Zahidan and also by boat loads to Iran and Persian Gulf Emirates.


Banana business kept fruit Mandis and plantations busy virtually like bees. It developed teams of specialised contracting services for cutting leaves, removal of trash, inter-cultivation to over come weeds, fertilizer in-puts, harvest crew, loading crew, trucking services, middle-men on the farms as contractors and subcontractors, middle – men in the Mandis, ripping rooms, packers, and sellers down to street vendors. They existed even in small villages and towns in whole Pakistan.


The export trade was equally complex. The traders had contacts in various foreign Mandis. Profits of ordinary ill-dressed, ill-educated middle-men each year ran into multi millions of rupees and so the losses too, if borders of Afghanistan and Iran were closed down once in a while during past 12 years.


Contractors paid 20% only of contract value of the first crop in advance. The rest he paid while he earned. Many contractors settled permanently on the contracted farms. They were Punjabis, Mohajirs, Pathans, Balouchis and Sindhis. The sub-contracts were seasonal and engaged when needed. The labour working for sub-contractors worked 4-5 hours a day and got more wages than urban labour but he was employed only 50% of his time, living on credit, advanced by shop keepers and village hotels.


Hotel business developed even in small villages. They entertained the client-age by radio, tape records, and television. Video-movies were shown on payment of Rs. 2.00 per head. Money brought worldly goods as well as vices. Tea drinking and Tobacco smoking increased. Even rural worker smoked factory made cigarettes. Charas became common in rural areas.


            Paid labour got awareness. He voted as per his own choice and convictions. He broke lose the chains of permanent slavery to Zamindars. The changed loyalties brought him some freedom, though he was always afraid of being harassed by the police.


            All this is going to be a story of the past, within next two years.


            Present author does not have immediate solution to the postponement of banana demise in Sindh. Although I can see some possibilities but solutions are too complex, too technical and government organisations in general are not geared, either to quick decisions or quick results. There is no time for long term experimentations with new varieties, with which Sindh fiddled for some 20 years before introducing Basrai in Sindh in 1950s. Our Mirpurkhas, horticulturists, Rizvi, Jagirdar, Rajpar and Pirzada had prepartition predecessors for some 10 years. We cannot wait for 20 years. We better forget about it then. We have to introduce new varieties and soon enough. Dr. Stover was invited to have a look into the disease. His arrival on February 15, 1991, was postponed due to gulf War then and now due to stopping or curtailment of US-AID. When he comes he will only talk about the present diseases. His terms of reference do not go beyond. More funds will be needed for recommendation of varieties. The recommendation cannot be specific. It will be long list of varieties and final recommendation will be biblical i.e. “Seek and Ye shall find”. In the mean time patient will be dead fro years, only to rise by re-incamation after many years if at all.


            During the past 10 years, the prices of banana during the peak season at the farm gate have varied between Rs. 30 to 70 per 40 kgs. This is about 20% or less of prices of a reasonable quality of mangoes. The banana thus is cheapest fruit of the country.


The farmer gets only 10% of retailed prices of bananas for raising it. If the contractor raises the crop and sells it in the Mandy, then alone he gets 20%. The balance 80% goes to various other categories of middle men from the Mandi agent to the street vender. This is how banana economy has benefited population of the country.



This Article was taken from ‘Sindh Quarterly’ Vol. XIX 1991 No. 4, pp. 12-23

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