Plant protection officials discuss preventing disease that targets Bananas

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By Latrishka Thomas

Fusarium Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is a disease caused by a soil-borne fungus that can affect the banana plant.

Yesterday, plant protection officials in the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPA) Regional Workshop were slated to discuss measures to prevent the dangerous fungus from spreading to the Caribbean Region.

Plant Production Protection Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Barbados Vyjayanthi Lopez told OBSERVER media that the disease is spreading rapidly in Colombia.

She said: “This is a new disease that has recently come into Colombia. It started about 30 years ago in Asia. It has devasted bananas and plantain in those countries. It has recently come into Colombia and Colombia is just across the sea from us, so we really need to take stock of that; so we are going to spend a day discussing how we are going to prevent Tropical Race 4 Fusarium from coming into the Caribbean, and if it does come in, how are we going to eradicate it or otherwise manage it.”

Noting that Colombia is not that far from the Caribbean, Lopez said bio-security measures must be put in place to ward off the fungus.

“I don’t know if you remember the Panama Disease which wiped out Gros Michel [a variety of banana] in the Caribbean about 75 or 80 years ago. It was the same disease; so this is the same Fusarium. It’s now mutated and it’s coming back. It mutated in Asia but it crossed the ocean. It’s present in the soil so it can come on your shoes, it can come on your clothes. So we have to put in place a lot of bio-security measures to prevent this disease from coming into the Caribbean,” she added.

Lopez, however, emphasised that Fusarium TR4 is not yet in the Caribbean. In fact, she said that the disease can only be found on a few farms in Colombia and they are trying to eradicate it; and if they do, “We don’t have an immediate problem, but the threat is always there because we have so much travel going on.” 

According to the World Banana Forum on the FAO website, Fusarium TR4 has the following profile: “There is no viable fully effective treatment of soil or plants to control or cure Fusarium in the field; The fungus’ resting spores remain viable in the soil for decades; Research is going on; However, the biology and genetics of the fungus are still not fully understood and the only currently available preventive measure is quarantine: preventing the transfer of infected soil or plant material from infected areas to TR4-free areas.”

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