G9 banana more disease-resistant but less marketable, farmers sayMost banana farmers in Chitwan grow the Malbhog variety which is yellow and sells well.
Banana farmers in Chitwan are switching to G9 banana because the Malbhog variety, which has been providing them a good income, is being increasingly plagued by disease.
But fruit growers have not been able to completely give up the yellow Malbhog banana. Although G9 is less prone to disease and has higher productivity, farmers are not much interested in this green variety because it is not as marketable.
Bishnu Hari Pant of Ratnanagar is a young farmer who earns a good income from banana farming. He has planted bananas on 40 bighas of land—Malbhog bananas on 38 bighas and G9 on 2 bighas.
Another young farmer, Yagya Prasad Subedi Laxman, has cultivated bananas on 70 bighas in different places of Chitwan. Out of the 70 bighas, he has planted Malbhog on 45 bighas and G9 on the rest.
Indra Dhungana, agriculture officer of the banana zone of the Prime Minister's Agriculture Modernisation Project Chitwan, said that banana is being cultivated on 2,000 hectares (3,000 bighas) in Chitwan.
Most farmers grow the Malbhog variety. Recently, a disease called Panama Will has appeared on Malbhog banana crops. It is a type of fungal disease which makes the leaves turn yellow.
Dhungana said that the problem had been seen in many banana fields. After the disease infects one plant, it does not take long for it to spread to the entire field, he said, adding that farmers faced a great risk. He said that about 30 percent of the banana fields in Chitwan had been ravaged by Panama Will.
Meghnath Timilsena, chief of the Project Implementation Unit of the Prime Minister's Agriculture Modernisation Project, compared Panama Will with Covid-19. There is a high risk of the disease being transferred from one plant to another, he said. It also spreads quickly. Its character is very similar to that of Covid-19, he said.
Banana farmers also said that the disease had spread, putting the banana farming business at risk. Though the G9 variety has high resistance to the disease due to some special features, farmers are not interested in growing it.
Malbhog banana yields 25 to 30 tonnes per hectare while G9 yields 50 tonnes per hectare, Timilsena said. G9 banana has a long ghari with many fruits. The Malbhog ghari is short with average fruits. Though G9 is more productive, farmers are reluctant to plant it as Nepalis prefer yellow bananas, Panta said. Malbhog is yellow and G9 is green.
Due to the preference for the yellow Malbhog banana, farmers are growing more of it. Everyone used to grow green bananas in Chitwan, but when they did not fetch a good price, farmers started planting Malbhog.
Yagya Prasad Subedi Laxman, former president of the Chitwan Banana Producers Association, said farmers were unsure about getting a good return when switching to G9 from Malbhog. G9 bananas fetch Rs3 per finger while Malbhog easily sells for Rs5 per finger.
Moreover, G9 needs adequate irrigation while Malbhog can grow on dry land. There is the problem of keeping a water pump for irrigation. Many farmers have rented land to cultivate bananas. They lease the land for four or five years, but the contract can be terminated before that. So they do not want to make any long-term investments like boring a well and installing a pump in case they have to leave, Panta said.
He said that there would be no problem making arrangements for irrigation if the land could be leased for 10 years, and the government provides grants for irrigation. Currently, the government provides a 50 percent grant for irrigation. Timilsena said that farmers were asking for an 85 percent grant.
He added that if G9 bananas were stored in a special type of chamber, they turn yellow, making them more marketable. Farmers are also demanding increased grants to build such chambers.
The Prime Minister's Agriculture Modernisation Project has been encouraging farmers to grow G9 banana. They are keen on planting the G9 banana as it has good disease resistance capacity while the disease can destroy Malbhog bananas at any time.
The project has been providing G9 saplings to farmers free of cost. The office aims to plant G9 bananas on 50 bighas of land within this year. Therefore, the conversion rate of bananas seems to be very low. If issues like price, irrigation and grants for farmers are addressed, the G9 acreage will increase rapidly, officials said.