Leading Philippine banana exporter Tadeco has warned of the dangers of lowering the guard against fusarium wilt. The recommendation comes at a time when the local government of Davao del Norte plans to demolish critical quarantine measures at Tadeco’s joint-venture with the local prison, according to BusinessMirror. In fact, according to Tadeco’s assistant vice-president for human resources, Zeaus Vadil, there are fusarium wilt-infected banana farms right across the street from the firm’s plantation inside the Bureau of Correction’s property (BuCor). Such a move risks spreading fusarium wilt and endangering the country’s vital banana industry. The local government has recently announced plans to dismantle three biosecurity facilities in Tadeco’s plantation as part of a plan to reclaim public roads. The order stems from President Duterte’s pronouncement in his 4th State of the Nation Address, in which he tasked LGUs with removing all obstructions on public roads.
Two Colombian banana production areas have been quarantined after an outbreak of the Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race IV (TR4) disease, which threatens the world’s bananas. The news has put neighbouring countries are on high alert. The announcement comes after several weeks of speculations among the sector but silence from the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA).
A national contingency is now in place that involves a quarantine of four farm blocks covering 150 hectares in the department of La Guajira, in the northeast of Colombia, near the border with Venezuela. There are new control points and tightened biosecurity control measures at points of exit.
Plant material has been sent to the Netherlands for laboratory testing, and results are expected in August. If the results turn out to be positive, this will represent a major threat to one of Latin America’s main industries. Ecuador has implemented its own contingency plan and strengthened biocontrol security at points of entry to the country. The International Organisation for Regional Plant and Animal Health (Oirsa) has urged all of its members to strengthen controls at borders, ports and airports.
The two infected farms are Eva Norte and Don Marce, the second of which supplies Dole with organic bananas.
The race is on to develop a banana variety resistant to the diseases and climatic changes that currently threaten the world’s favourite fruit. International trade in the fruit is worth US$13bn a year. But the global supply chain is threatened by a virulent disease that has been attacking plantations in Australia, south-east Asia and parts of Africa and the Middle East. Experts warn that “Fusarium wilt”, or Panama disease, could spread to Latin America, from where the majority of bananas are exported, prompting scientists to research new varieties. The Cavendish variety currently accounts for 99.9% of bananas traded globally, having itself replaced a tastier variety wiped out by disease in the 1950s. Now researchers at Tropic Biosciences in the UK are using gene-editing techniques to develop a more resilient version of the Cavendish. The company’s CEO, Gilad Gershno, said, “If you look at the broader consumption on top of exports, the banana industry is worth a massive $30bn a year. However, people have been getting increasingly worried because the plant is heavily cloned so if you have a disease that can kill one tree, it can potentially wipe out the entire industry.”
Tropic Biosciences has already conducted successful gene editing on a banana cell which can be grown into a full plant. The preliminary results have been encouraging and field trials should begin in Central America, the Philippines and Turkey over the coming year.
As the disease is spread by aphids, the only treatment is to uproot and burn all the plants, which is very costly. Last year, researchers from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, designed a genetically modified Cavendish banana with resistance to the soil-borne Panama disease.
Fungus might provide the solution to a disease that strikes tomatoes. Scientists from the University of Florida are working on this method as a means to help control Fusarium wilt. Tomatoes represent Florida’s main vegetable crop, with 28,000 acres commercially harvested in 2017, worth US$262 million. Funded by a three-year grant from the USDA, associate professor of plant pathology, Gary Vallad, is working with colleagues from other universities to develop an approach using a fungus called trichoderma to combat Fusarium wilt. It is hoped that the trichoderma could eventually replace chemical pest-management methods currently used to fight the disease.
Trichoderma fungi can be found in soil and on plants have previously been used biological control agents in agriculture. Other researchers have tried and failed to use trichoderma as a means of controlling pathogens. However, this current research is intended to develop an understanding of what factors limit the fungus’ benefits as a biological control agent. The focus is on tomato production in Florida, Maryland and Pennsylvania.