Coronavirus outbreak: Here's how the lockdown came as blessing in disguise for Vasai's banana farm

Updated: Jun 21, 2020, 07:40 IST | Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Once affected by fungi, the drop in pollution levels has ensured healthy growth for the fruit

Bavtis Caitan Fargose and wife Veronica's farm is on a busy road which connects Suncity in Vasai and Virar and thus sees quite a bit of traffic
Bavtis Caitan Fargose and wife Veronica's farm is on a busy road which connects Suncity in Vasai and Virar and thus sees quite a bit of traffic

The lockdown has brought some cheer for a Vasai banana farm, which had been affected by black sigatoka, a type of fungi that damaged foliage, for the last five years. With vehicular movement cut, pollution levels have dropped drastically and, says farmer Bavtis Caitan Fargose, there's been a large reduction in fungi growth as well. This without the use of any chemicals.

"We had been incurring a loss of nearly 70 per cent for five years due to the fungi which affected bunch weight. The upper side of leaves would get blackened by the fungus," says Fargose, adding that he wasn't able to buy any chemical anti-fungal agent from agro stores. His one-acre land in Vasai village is located along a busy road which internally connects Suncity in Vasai and Virar.

Fargose says the fungi leaves black spots on the plantain which inhibit the photosynthesis process and hamper the health of the plant. Pics/Hanif Patel
Fargose says the fungi leaves black spots on the plantain which inhibit the photosynthesis process and hamper the health of the plant. Pics/Hanif Patel

He started noticing a positive change from April 10 onwards. Studies have proven a connection between pathogens on plants and pollutants in the atmosphere. "The black spots on the banana leaves hamper the photosynthesis process in the plantains which weakens the stems, causing hanging clusters to suffer. Weeks later, the leaves turn pale and natural growth in the bunch stops, which force an early ripening of the fruit," says the 68-year-old. "The skin of the banana also gets black spots and buyers tend to shun these. So, we have to reduce the price to increase sales," he adds.

He says even spraying of water doesn't help clean the black spots. "On touch, they feel like tar."

"There is huge demand of banana leaves in the market as most South Indian restaurants prefer serving meals on these leaves. These leaves are also used for religious purposes and many people demand it, especially during Ganpati festival. But, our business incurred heavy losses due to the fungus 'black sigatoka' in last five years," adds Fargose, saying that a two-feet long banana leaf costs R1.

Fargose hopes business will boom this season. "The banana farm is like my baby. My ancestors too worked in this field and I have been working here for decades. It makes me emotional when I see these babies dying and I feel helpless. I am really happy to see the healthy green leaves and, when the wind blows, these plantains seem like they are dancing together," he adds.

"Earlier, we used to grow 15 hybrids of bananas but now it has reduced to five—velchi, ambadi velchi, hajari banana, bunn banana and basadi banana," says his wife Veronica. The couple hopes that the air quality remains intact. A senior official from Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) tells mid-day that the air quality has significantly improved across the globe during the lockdown. "But, it will be back to square one if the lockdown is lifted. Discussions among scientists and government bodies are underway across the globe regarding steps that can be taken to retain the current air quality, and this is possible only when we use public transport and encourage others to do the same," he says.

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