In 2008, Guyana’s exportation of plantains had completely ceased after the Black Sigatoka Disease, infected 97 percent of all banana and plantain varieties grown in the Caribbean.
The disease is a fungal, airborne disease that affects the leaves at the opening of the plant. At the initial stage of the disease, a spot appears at the tip of the leaves. If the spot is cut off early, it can prevent the spread of the disease.
However, if the infection spreads, the edge of the leaves will start becoming yellow then brown and finally die. The main varieties of plantains being cultivated in Guyana include ‘Horse’, ‘Creole’ and ‘Horn.’
Because of the severity of the disease, the Ministry of Agriculture in Dominica, Guyana, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines through the Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute (CARDI) requested financial assistance from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).
CARDI became the executing agent for the resulting CDB funded project—“Development of an Integrated Disease Management Programme for Black Sigatoka Disease.”
The two-year project commenced in Guyana in May 2015. The objectives were identified as the introduction and evaluation of the Black Sigatoka Disease which included the development of an integrated disease management programme and training of stakeholders in the management of it.
The project will end in December.

PITA 17, a new variety of plantains

In the initial stage of the project, a number of Black Sigatoka Disease tolerant plantain and banana hybrids were imported as tissue culture material where they were then multiplied at the Tissue Culture Laboratory at the National Agricultural Research and Extension Institute (NAREI).
Planting materials were also supplied from St. Vincent and Grenadines.
This had to be done in sufficient quantities for the varietal evaluation in Guyana. Evaluations were done using the Grand Naine banana, PITA 17, 21, 23 and 27 plantains varieties to determine how they would stand up against the disease.
Three demonstration farms were established in Regions Three, Four and Five. Farmers were introduced to the new varieties to see how they would perform under the local field condition. They also had the opportunity to test the varieties.
Presently, the new varieties are being harvested in different areas.
CARDI’s Research Assistant, Somwattie Pooran- DeSouza said that the agency provided training to close to 400 stakeholders in the management of the Black Sigatoka Disease.
They were trained in all aspects of the management of the new varieties, including the selection of planting materials and planting; fertility management and pest and disease management.
The main challenge in disease management is to ensure that the plant survives and produces a viable economic return.
This requires an Integrated Disease Management (IDM) approach, the success of which depends on: keeping the disease at a very low level inthe field by utilising tolerant varieties and field sanitation and keeping the plants healthy by; for example, optimal plant nutrition and pest control.