TR4, which causes a disease that spreads very easily, is already present in Latin America and the Caribbean. There is no known cure, which makes a coordinated effort by several actors from the public and private sectors to generate scientific knowledge, build capacities among producers and contain the disease essential, in order to ensure the continuity of the production of a food crop. and source of revenue for a significant portion of the population, especially in developing countries.
So said the scientists Gert Kema and Chelly Hresko, two of the experts who have been investigating the subject the most in the world, in a conversation organized by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
“It can be surprising to know how important bananas are for so many people, especially for vulnerable people, whose food selection is limited. It represents up to 25% of the calories you incorporate daily. And it is grown in 135 countries, supporting the income of countless small producers, ”said Hresko.
Hresko, responsible for Innovation in Research and Development for Diseases and Agricultural Efficiency at the Bayer Biotechnology Organization, added: “The main difficulty we face is that we cannot count on the magic of chemistry to get rid of this disease. All we can do, while developing scientific knowledge, is to train producers on the best forms of containment. It is a very complex challenge ”.
Kema explained that the TR4 strain of the Fusarium fungus attacks the Cavendish banana variety, which today covers approximately 50% of global banana production, 95% of export markets and is the only one that is massively traded in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in the West in general.
This variety has been dominant in global markets for nearly 70 years, due to its natural resistance to the so-called Fusarium Race 1, which had decimated the production of banana Gros Michel, the most widely propagated so far.
"Cavendish has been such a wonderful solution for the past 70 years that there has been virtually no research to understand what exactly TR4 disease is and how plantations can protect themselves from it," said Kema, who runs the phytopathology laboratory – the science that studies plant diseases – from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
“So it is not surprising that, as soon as this disease came to light, it soon became a threat to the entire production. Now we face a situation that, in some ways, is a repetition of history that happened with the Gros Michel variety, ”he added.
The specialist explained that the disease, now transformed into a global threat, was first detected in Jordan, but originated in Southeast Asia, as well as the banana itself: “TR4 is a particular species of Fusarium that started in Indonesia, has spread if for the rest of Southeast Asia and now it is moving west: India, Pakistan, Middle East, Africa and, later, Colombia ”.
The presence of the disease in Colombia – the only country in Latin America and the Caribbean to date – was officially confirmed in 2019 by the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), which detected it in plantations in the north of the country. There is no precise answer on how and why it got there.
“It could also have been any other banana-producing country in Latin America or the Caribbean. It was completely random, ”said Kema.
The scientist, who has 38 years of experience in the study of plant pathologies, explained: “We know that the disease is transmitted by the soil, but there is no reason to conclude that, with the transport of bananas, the contamination spreads. We understand that the main reason for the dissemination is travelers and, in this sense, in the banana sector there are many risks, as workers tend to go from one country to another ”, explained Kema.
Therefore, as a preventive measure, it is necessary to ensure the hygiene of those close to the banana plantations. “If you wear your boots on a plantation in the Philippines,” said Kema, “and then put them on again in Costa Rica, this is very dangerous. If the soil is contaminated, it will contaminate your shoes, your clothes, your tools ”.
The expert suggested to the producers that they reduce the presence of visitors in their plantations and recommended that, if they have no alternative but to receive the visitors, they “arrive clean and leave clean”, so that there is no risk of bringing or take the disease.
Chelly Hresko added that the first disease caused by the Fusarium fungus, in the first half of the twentieth century, which killed the Gros Michel variety of bananas, expanded at a much slower rate, because at the time, people traveled less around the world.
In this sense, the Covid-19 pandemic, with the severe travel restrictions that it brought along, is a factor that can delay the spread of TR4.
It is the international organization specialized in agriculture in the Inter-American System. Its mission is to stimulate, promote and support the efforts of its 34 member states to achieve agricultural development and rural well-being, through excellent international technical cooperation.
Source: Agricultural News