FAO calls for preventive measures against banana disease

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By Jimoh Babatunde

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has called on countries to restrict movement of infected soil and planting materials into and out of farms, as the world’s most destructive banana diseases, Fusarium wilt TR4, is  spreading  from Asia to Africa and the Middle East.

The disease is soil-borne and the fungus can remain viable for decades.  Once the disease is present in a field, it cannot be fully controlled by currently available practices and fungicides. The best way to fight the disease is to prevent its spread, which includes avoiding movement of diseased plant materials and infected soil particles.

In its warning to countries on how to step up monitoring, reporting and prevention of the disease, FAO said the TR4  race of the disease, which is also known as Panama disease, is posing a serious threat to production and export of the popular fruit, with serious repercussions for the banana value chain and livelihoods.

Banana is the eighth most important food crop in the world and the fourth most important food crop among the world’s least-developed countries, according to FAOSTAT , the UN agency’s  data-gathering and analysis service.

“Any disease or constraint that affects bananas is striking at an important source of food, livelihoods, employment and government revenues in many tropical countries,” said Gianluca Gondolini, Secretary of the World Banana Forum.

“The spread of Fusarium wilt banana disease could have a significant impact on growers, traders and families who depend on the banana industry,” Fazil Dusunceli, a plant pathologist at FAO, said. “Countries need to act now if we are to avoid the worst-case scenario, which is massive destruction of much of the world’s banana crop,” said Dusunceli.

“We need to raise awareness of this threat, coordinate efforts among countries and institutions for effective implementation of appropriate quarantine measures, and also work with banana producers, traders, plantation employees and smallholder farmers to help to minimize the spread of the disease,” Dusunceli said.

He also highlighted the importance of research in better understanding the disease and developing alternative varieties that are disease resistant.

On its recommended action at country level, FAO advised that awareness level should be raised; adoption of appropriate risk assessment, surveillance and early warning systems; preventive measures, including quarantines, and the use of disease-free planting materials.

FAO also advised that  there should be capacity building in National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO) in planning, extension and research, including the use of rapid and accurate diagnostic tools as well as training of technical officers, producers and farm workers in disease identification, prevention and management under field conditions.

While other races of the disease have existed for many years, 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.

TR4 infects the Cavendish banana varieties, which dominate global trade, as well as other susceptible varieties used for local consumption and markets. Despite damage to the banana plant and to production, the fruit itself remains edible.

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