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For Immediate Release: April 16, 2004


HONOLULU - The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) has confirmed that the Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV), a serious disease of banana plants, has been found in Keaau on the Big Island's east side.  This is the first time the disease has been reported on the island's east side, which is the state's main banana-producing region.

On Monday, April 12, one of the state's largest banana farms, Keaau Banana Plantation, reported the BBTV infection to HDOA, which confirmed the presence of the virus through tests.  HDOA personnel also began surveying the area within and surrounding the farm for the disease to determine if the virus has moved outside the 200-acre Keaau Banana Plantation.

"If BBTV is found to be widespread in Keaau, it could severely impact the state's $8.4 million banana industry," said Sandra Lee Kunimoto, Chairperson of  the Hawaii Board of Agriculture.  "We ask the cooperation of area banana farmers, as well as residents who have backyard banana plants, in allowing HDOA personnel to check their plants for the disease so we can determine the extent of the problem."

 Teams of HDOA personnel will begin canvassing farms and neighborhoods in Keaau and will be asking the permission of property owners to allow them access to survey all banana plants and test any suspect plants.  All official HDOA personnel will have department-issued badges for identification.

BBTV-infected plants exhibit severely stunted growth in the plant crown, resulting in a bunchy appearance.  Younger leaves are stunted with yellowish leaf edges and may curl upward.  Lower leaf stems and midribs exhibit dark, parallel “streaks” which may form a continuous line, or appear as intermittent blotches.   Streaks may also be viewed in the leaf veins forming a “morse code” pattern which is best viewed by looking from the undersides of the leaves toward the sky.  Infected plants produce deformed and stunted fruits.  In advanced stages, banana plants do not produce any fruits. 

 BBTV is spread by the banana aphid and, more commonly, by people moving and planting infected young plants. 

 Big Island property owners who suspect that their banana plants may have the disease should call the Hilo Office of the HDOA at 974-4140.

In early 1999, the department began an extensive eradication project in North Kona after BBTV was discovered on the west side of the Big Island.  A 10-mile eradication zone was established and during a two-year period, HDOA surveyed more than 17,000 properties and destroyed more than 175,000 banana plants in that effort to prevent the spread of the virus to the east side.  However, in September 2002, an isolated pocket of five infected banana plants was found in the eradication area.  Surveillance  and destruction of diseased banana plants continues in the Kona area.

 BBTV has also been found in areas on Kauai from Hanalei to Lawai and on Maui in Pukalani and Makawao.  BBTV is widespread on Oahu. 


 Media contact:

Janelle Saneishi
Public Information Officer
Hawaii Department of Agriculture
Phone: (808) 973-9560
[email protected]