The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is warning nations to step up monitoring, reporting and prevention of Fusarium wilt, the world’s most destructive banana disease that has in recent years spread from Asia to Africa and the Middle East
According to FAO’s information brief, the TR4 race of the disease, which is also known as Panama disease, poses a serious threat to the production and exportation of bananas across the globe with huge repercussions on value chains and livelihoods.
TR4 has in recent years caused significant losses in banana plantations in Southeast Asia 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.
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.
Fusarium wilt is caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum, as the disease is soil-borne the fungus can remain viable for decades.
The fungus enters the plant through roots and damages the xylem vessels blocking flow of water and nutrients, leading to the collapse of leaves and eventual death of the plants.
“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 forum, whose Secretariat is based at FAO headquarters, promotes sustainable banana production and trade.
“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.
According to FAO, nations should adopt risk assessment, surveillance and early warning signs to the disease.
Phytosaninary measures should also be put in place to prevent spread of the disease through irrigation and drainage systems, transportation, vehicles, containers and tools. Other measures should include quarantine, use of disease –free materials, prevention of movement of infected soil and planting materials in and out of the farm and disnfection of vehicles.