Preparing banana and plantain suckers for planting to reduce pests and increase yield

Agriculture is considered Malawi’s economic mainstay. Overall, agriculture makes up nearly 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and is by far the country’s largest employer.

Thus, production of crops such as bananas—which are widely grown by smallholder farmers in Malawi for both commercial and household consumption—is critical to the country’s development.

However, the growth of Malawi’s banana industry has been hampered by a number of challenges. For example, statistics show that the country has lately lost 30,000 hectares of bananas due to poor agricultural practices, diseases and lack of access to clean planting materials.

Also, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Malawi is currently importing about 20,000 metric tonnes (mt) of bananas per year from East Africa due to its poor banana production.

Despite all efforts to avert the situation, Malawi’s banana industry is still grappling with problems such as lack of access to clean planting materials.

Image of nematodes that affect the growth of banana. Picture credit: SAWBO

But its never too late to turn the tide!

In this article, you will learn how to prepare banana and plantain suckers before planting to remove pests, and how to use pieces of cut stems to trap and control weevils for bountiful yields and better crops.

The information is courtesy of Scientific Animations Without Borders-SAWBO which is a Purdue University-based program (formally at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then Michigan State University) that creates and distributes animated educational videos free of charge.

SAWBO transforms extension information on relevant topics such as agriculture, disease, and women’s empowerment, into 2D, 2.5D and 3D animations, which are then voice-overlaid into a diversity of languages from around the world.

How Best to Prepare Banana And Plantain Suckers for Planting:

Nematodes—which are too small to see—and weevils can be a serious problem for your banana and plantain crops. However, according to SAWBO, you can deal with that and have better crops by:

  1. Treating suckers with boiling water:

Suckers are often infested with nematodes and banana weevils. By immersing your suckers for thirty seconds in boiling water, you will kill the pests and have clean planting material.

Image of banana suckers being treated before planting, and a banana weevils trap. Picture credit: SAWBO

First, select suckers from healthy plants—at least twenty centimeters (20 cm) around—and about six and a half centimeters (6.5 cm) cross…(this is about the length of your shortest finger). Use a knife to remove roots and any damaged or rotten areas by cutting and peeling the corm until they are clean white. NOTE: Do not use suckers that have a lot of rot or weevil holes, but rather, only use clean and healthy suckers from healthy plants.

To treat suckers with boiling water, you will need the following things:

  • Firewood and a frame for the fire.
  • A container for boiling the water—that is large enough so that the entire corm, and up to twenty centimeters (20 cm) above the corm will be covered.
  • Enough water to fill your container—two to three-quarters full.
  • Two pieces of rope, about sixty centimeters (60 cm) in length each.
  • One solid stick, approximately two and a half to three meters long.
  • Thirty (30) small stones or beans and a small container to hold them.
  • A basket or a sack

After collecting all the above needed materials, firstly, build your fire frame and place your container. Fill the container—two-thirds to three-quarters full with water. Tie each end of one piece of rope to each handle of the basket to create a loop with the rope. Then, place the stick through each loop of the rope.

You will need three people to treat the suckers. Two people will lower the basket with the suckers into the boiling water by holding onto the stick from which the basket hangs, while the other person will mark the correct amount of time for the suckers to be treated in the boiling water. If you are only treating a few suckers, you can also use a sack instead of a basket.

Put thirty stones into a pile and place a container, approximately fifty centimeters (50 cm) from the pile of stones. Once the water has begun boiling, place the suckers in the basket—corm at the bottom of the basket and the stem up—with one person holding each end of the stick to which the ropes holding the basket are attached, and prepare to lower the basket into the boiling water. Be sure the person marking the time is with the pile of stones.

Slowly lower the basket into the boiling water. As soon as the basket is placed in the boiling water, the person marking time will begin to move each of the thirty stones one by one from the pile into the container. NOTE: The stones should be moved at a consistent pace.

As soon as the last stone has been moved from the pile to the container, the basket should be removed from the boiling water. This will ensure the suckers have been treated for enough time to kill the pests. NOTE: If you treat the suckers in boiling water for two short a time, you will not kill the pests. If you treat them for two long, you will damage the sucker and it will not be good planting material. So, it is very important to immerse the suckers for the right length of time.

  • By treating your suckers in boiling water before planting, you will kill the pests that exist and have clean healthy planting material, resulting in better crops.
  1. Placing freshly-cut banana or plantain stems in your field

You can also help control weevils by placing freshly-cut banana or plantain stems in your field. First, cut stems into pieces that are about twenty centimeters (20 cm) long, then split those stem pieces into half—lengthwise.

Place the cut-side of the stem facing down onto the soil. Place the cut stems about forty centimeters (40 cm) away from the banana plant. Do this throughout your field. The cut stem will attract weevils away from your plants. It is best to place the cut stems in your field around 6 pm in the evening. Check the stem traps daily for the first four days. In the morning, collect and kill any weevils found on the traps and replace them back onto the soil, cut-side facing down.

  • By preparing suckers before planting and using stem traps to control weevils, you can achieve higher yields and increase lifespan for your banana and plantain plantations.

Well, henceforth, I hope nothing will drive you frantic when preparing banana and plantain suckers for planting to remove pests as I have shared with you some vital information on how best you can do that.

Now, having read this article, I urge you to watch a video by SAWBO on how to prepare banana and plantain suckers before planting to remove pests, and how to use pieces of cut stems to trap and control weevils for higher yields and better crops. The video will help you to fully understand all the steps I have explained in this article. Surely, it won’t be daunting at all to follow the steps if you watch the video. Lastly, let me also encourage you to kindly share this article widely and visit the SAWBO website for more free animations on relevant topics such as agriculture, disease and women’s empowerment.

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