Sunday, March 4, 2001
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Posted on: Sunday, March 4, 2001

Banana virus under control in North Kona

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii — After a two-year quarantine, state agriculture officials have declared victory over an outbreak of the banana bunchy top virus in North Kona.

The casualties included 175,000 banana plants that state officials destroyed or confiscated to prevent the spread of virus to the rest of the Big Island’s $4 million-a-year banana industry. The cost of carrying out the quarantine has been estimated at $500,000.

Bunchy top virus is still being fought on Oahu and Kauai. Officials do not believe eradication is possible on Oahu. Kauai had one infestation eradicated at Kilauea two years ago, but a new, wider outbreak has since been found. State officials have estimated it would take three years and $5.5 million to eradicate the pest from the infested area.

Kauai and Oahu banana farms remain under quarantine, and plants cannot be taken to other islands. However, the fruit does not carry the banana bunchy top virus.

Banana bunchy top is a viral disease that causes stunting and discoloration of banana leaves, eventually killing the plant. The virus, spread plant to plant by banana aphids, poses no threat to humans.

Agriculture Department spokeswoman Janelle Saneishi said there are no chemicals to prevent or cure the banana bunchy top virus. "The only sure method of controlling its spread is to destroy all the plants in the affected area," she said.

Since the discovery of the Kona outbreak, the state imposed a quarantine on a 10-square-mile area that ran from Palani Road to Kamehameha III Road and covered much of what is known as the coffee belt in the mauka areas.

Not all Kona farmers cooperated with the quarantine. Some were taken to court to ensure inspectors could enter their property and destroy the plants.

The Hawaii Banana Growers Association is giving away 12-inch Williams banana and dwarf apple banana starter plants from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Kona Imin Center in Holualoa and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 17 at the University of Hawaii’s Kainaliu Experiment Station.

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