A new strain of the fungus that devastated banana crops and caused a shortage of that fruit in the 60s of the last century arrived in Colombia after sweeping entire plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia and other producing countries in Southeast Asia. The Colombian Government works to contain the plague, which keeps the entire South and Central American region on alert.
The fusarium oxyporum tropical race 4 fungus, called TR4 for its acronym in English, recently arrived at a farm in La Guajira, Colombia, and has put in check the Latin American countries that produce bananas and bananas, a staple in the regional diet and, above all, a vital source of income and employment for producing families and the economies of those nations.
Although TR4 does not harm human health, it destroys the plant by entering through the root and blocking its vascular system, closing the passage of water and nutrients, causing wilting.
Colombia is among the top five banana exporters and that input is, after coffee and flowers, its third most important export. In addition, it borders Ecuador, the largest exporter of the fruit in the world. The neighbors Costa Rica and Guatemala are also leaders in banana production. At the moment, the lethal fungus has affected 150 hectares in La Guajira.
After the detection of TR4, the Colombian Government took emergency measures by quarantining an area of 185 hectares and destroying more than 275,000 banana plants in the affected area, in addition to introducing strict phytosanitary provisions. For its part, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) launched a contingency plan to help Latin American and Caribbean countries prevent the spread of fusarium wilt, the disease caused by the mushroom.
The Agriculture Officer of the FAO Subregional Office for Mesoamerica, Raixa Llauger, explained the seriousness of the situation.
Fusarium wilt, caused by the fungus fusarium oxyporum in its Cuban form, is one of the most destructive diseases of bananas worldwide. Its new race [strain] TR4, has caused great losses in Southeast Asia, has spread to Africa, the Middle East, and recently reached a region of Colombia, La Guajira, and can negatively affect livelihoods livelihoods. of small producers, he said.
The most dangerous thing is that the disease is easily contagious.
It can spread through plant materials and spores, in soil particles, through agricultural tools, shoes, vehicles. Also the irrigation and drainage of water, particularly floods, play a critical role in the spread of the disease.
The disease affects many varieties of bananas and bananas, including Cavendish, which dominates the world market with 47% of production, and is the most cultivated in Latin America.
The Cavendish banana began to be sown massively in the middle of the last century, when the so-called Panama disease, caused by another strain of the same fungus, devastated world crops of the varieties produced at that time. Cavendish is a strain resistant strain that causes Panama’s disease.
Diversification and resilience
FAO ensures that diversification, soil health and better use of available genetic resources are essential to increase disease resilience in developing countries.
Would it then be an option to start growing varieties that prove resistant to TR4? The Philippines and Taiwan, for example, are planting banana varieties resistant to the virulent strain.
“With regard to tolerance and resistance, it is a new field and work is being done, as the Philippines and Taiwan do, but the latest results are not yet available,” said the expert.
Llauger added, however, that in the case of Colombia, from an academic, research and strategy management point of view, one option could be to introduce tolerant or resistant banana varieties that are known both in the area with the presence of TR4 as in the pest free areas.
“It could be a medium or long term solution for banana production systems.”
Unfortunately, that does not guarantee that markets will continue to consume it, Llauger warned.
Because I can have the variety I want, but maybe that banana flavor isn’t the one I like the most, it’s not the one they want to consume the most. That is, it takes a set of investigations to introduce a new tolerant or resistant variety.
Prevent the spread
Due to the complexity and timing of this process, the best way to combat fusarium wilt is to prevent its spread, since it is a disease that cannot be eradicated.
When the disease is established, the categorical term ‘eliminate’ is complicated because it remains viable for decades in the soil, therefore, what corresponds is to prevent the spread of TR4. Prevention is the most effective way to fight the disease, explained the specialist.
Such prevention must include appropriate regulations and phytosanitary measures.
“To prevent the spread and work on prevention there are several ways: the use of certified plant material, quarantine controls, periodic surveys.”
And that is what Colombia is doing, work on the containment of the disease with biosecurity measures, among other provisions.
Colombia has worked on a national plan for prevention and control of TR4, which includes phytosanitary surveillance, communication and dissemination of risk, regulatory measures, biosecurity, contingency plan. They have also made progress in diagnosis and are currently working on the research, said Llauger.
FAO has called not to underestimate the role of bananas and bananas in food and family income in Latin America and the Caribbean and has initiated an emergency project to help countries develop national and regional action plans that increase their capacities to prevent, diagnose, monitor and contain fungal outbreaks, as well as to raise awareness and disseminate information among agricultural communities
Source: UN News Service