Malaysian farmers face losses as disease ravages banana plantations in Penang

Malaysian farmers face losses as disease ravages banana plantations in Penang

BALIK PULAU - The income of some 200 farmers here is in jeopardy after a disease ravaged their banana plantations, turning parts of the plant black.

Pulau Betong assemblyman Muhamad Farid Saad said the Moko disease, which is caused by the Raistonia Solanacearum bacteria, had so far affected almost half - 153ha out of 336ha - of the banana plantations.

The affected plantations are in Permatang Pasir, Sungai Rusa, Kampung Perlis, Kampung Enam, Sungai Burong, Sungai Nipah, Titi Teras, Gertak Sanggul, Bukit Sungai Ara and Teluk Kumbar.

"The plants have to be destroyed and the soil rehabilitated before new ones can be replanted. Some 90 per cent of the banana trees affected are those bearing the pisang awak variant," he said after visiting a banana plantation affected by the disease in Ladang Kampung here yesterday.

The bacteria is known to affect the root of the plant, its blossom (jantung pisang), stem and the fruit, forming a dark ring in these parts.

After the disease was discovered last November, Muhamad Farid said the Agricultural Department here cleared 30ha of the plantation in Kampung Perlis.

"A study by the department showed that one of the reasons the bacteria is active in areas such as Kampung Perlis is because it breeds in damp areas.

"We need to destroy the plants in those plantations which have contracted the bacteria to prevent it from spreading. However, the cost to clear an acre (0.4ha) of plantation land comes up to RM10,000 (S$3,737).

"The farmers are short of funds and manpower to cut the trees, burn them and clear the land, unless the state and the Federal Government act fast," he said.

The department, said Muhamad Farid, had also suggested for human activities to be restricted at affected plantations.

"Farmers with an acre or two of plantation earn a monthly income of RM1,000. They realise that it will not be possible to be compensated for their losses.

"But what they are hoping for is some funds to help them clear the affected plantation because the longer they wait, the more difficult it will be for them to replant," he said.

Affected farmers, he added, were also advised to grow other crops such as mango or ambra for at least another three years to earn an income.

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