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Banana industry braces for new threat

Published: 
Monday, May 5, 2014

Against the backdrop of rising concern about one of the world’s most destructive banana diseases, regional entities are joining forces to prepare industry stakeholders to face the threat. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is supporting two events on Fusarium Wilt—Tropical Race 4 (TR4), also known as Panama Disease, in partnership with Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute (Cardi), the Ministry of Food Production and the University of the West Indies, St Augustine. 

 

The first event, a half-day sensitization session, raised awareness of the disease and prevention methods with national and regional agencies based in T&T. The second activity is a training workshop starting today for approximately 25 participants, including representatives from seven banana-producing countries—Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Suriname and two technicians from CIRAD, Guadeloupe. 

 

Dr Vyjayanthi Lopez, FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Officer at its Sub-regional Office in Barbados, said Fusarium wilt is caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum fsp cubense, which lives in the soil. It remains viable for decades and is easily spread from field to field through movement of diseased planting material and or infected soil particles. 

 

Once the disease is present in a field, it cannot be fully controlled by currently available agronomic and plant protection practices, including the use of fungicides. The best way to fight the disease is to prevent its entry. While other strains of the disease have been around for years, this particular strain, TR4, has caused significant losses in banana plantations in Southeast Asia over the last two decades, and has recently been reported in Mozambique and Jordan. 

 

The disease primarily affects the Cavendish banana varieties, which dominates global trade and is the main variety grown in the Caribbean for export as well as for local consumption. As a result of the new reports of TR4, FAO and the World Banana Forum recently issued a warning to countries to step up monitoring, reporting and prevention of Fusarium wilt which has the potential to affect countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. 

 

With the region’s banana producing countries already engaged in a battle with Black Sigatoka Disease, the introduction of Fusarium Wilt would only further compound the threat to the industry and to food security and rural livelihoods. Consultants leading the workshop will focus on prevention of entry of the disease through monitoring, and early detection of the disease through diagnostic training. 

 

They will also stress the importance of using disease-free plantlets and avoiding movement of infected soil and planting materials into and out of affected farms. Attendees will be provided with a manual and will be equipped to lead prevention efforts in their respective territories. Dr Lopez stressed the scale of the threat and reiterated the need for a concerted effort in enhancing prevention measures to keep Fusarium TR4 out of the Caribbean. 

 

“Thus far, the Caribbean and Latin America is free of Fusarium wilt but given the recent spread of TR4, we need to protect our banana crops, which are grown mostly on small, rural family farms and are very important for the food and nutrition security of our region. All the stakeholders in the banana industry must therefore come together to raise awareness of the dire consequences of an outbreak and to work hard to keep this disease out.”