News Release: March 8, 2000

Posted on Mar 8, 2000 in 2000 News Releases, News-Releases

NR 00-03 March 8, 2000

Some Kona Residents Resisting State Efforts to Eradicate the Banana Bunchy Top Virus on the Big Island

Honolulu – The state Department of Agriculture is renewing its request for the cooperation of North Kona residents to identify and destroy all banana plants in the area, in an effort to rid West Hawaii of the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). An aggressive eradication program, dubbed “Project Eradication,” has been ongoing for the past year; however, some Kona residents are not cooperating with agriculture officials. BBTV-infected banana plants continue to be found within the 10-square-mile infestation zone (from Palani Junction south to Kahaluu Farmlots). If people are aware of banana plants growing in the North Kona area, they are urged to call the Department of Agriculture in Hilo at 974-4140.

BBTV is a serious viral disease of banana plants and is a major threat to the Big Island’s

$4 million banana industry. The virus is spread by the banana aphid and, more commonly, by people moving and planting infected young plants. Infected banana plants produce small, deformed fruits; and in advanced stages, banana plants do not produce any fruit. Banana plants may also carry the virus without showing obvious signs of infection. There are no chemicals that can prevent or cure BBTV and the only sure method of controlling its spread is to destroy all the plants in the affected area.

The mission of Project Eradication is to eradicate BBTV in Kona before it can spread to the Big Island’s east side, which is the state’s major banana-producing area.

A few dozen Kona residents have resisted the efforts of Project Eradication and have refused to allow Department of Agriculture personnel on their property to destroy banana plants. Under the circumstances, the state may be forced to obtain court orders to complete the eradication program.

“While most North Kona property owners have been cooperative, those who deny us access to banana plants are actually extending the time period that everyone is not allowed to grow bananas,” said James J. Nakatani, Chairperson for the Department of Agriculture. “We are still finding banana plants infected with the bunchy top virus in North Kona, so it’s important that we get to every single banana plant in the area. Otherwise, we risk another infestation a year or two down the road and then we face having to repeat this eradication process again.”

Project Eradication in North Kona had initially been expected to be completed by the end of 1999. Agriculture personnel have been brought in from Oahu and Kauai to accelerate the eradication program and canvas neighborhoods for backyard banana plants.

The Department of Agriculture is trying to complete BBTV eradication by the end of March. After the last banana plant in the area has been destroyed, a three-month quarantine period will follow to insure that the disease has been totally eradicated. In the meantime, a quarantine prohibiting the movement of banana plants and banana parts will continue in effect on Oahu, and in the North and South Kona districts. Violations of this rule may result in fines between $100 to $10,000.

The same BBTV eradication process on a smaller scale was successful in eradicating the disease on the island of Kauai in 1998. On Oahu, BBTV is too widespread to make eradication feasible.

Since January 1999, approximately 33,000 banana plants have been destroyed in the Kona area. Banana plants are killed by puncturing the trunk with a screwdriver and injecting the plants with the herbicide, Roundup Ultra. Within a couple of weeks from treatment, plants wither and die Property owners have been asked to keep the withering plants on their property until the materials have completely decomposed so that infected materials are not moved to uninfested areas.

Bananas are the state’s 11th largest commodity, with production reaching 21 million pounds in 1998 and bringing in $7.4 million into the state’s economy that year. Statistics for that year also indicate that the Big Island led the state in banana production with output of 11.1 million pounds.

To report the existence of a banana plant in the infestation zone, call the Hilo office of the Department of Agriculture at 974-4140.

For media inquiries, photos or photo opportunities, please call Janelle Saneishi, Public Information Officer, in Honolulu at 973-9560.