Recent reports about the Fusarium wilt (Panama disease) infecting more than 1,000 hectares of plantations in Mindanao, southern Philippines have caused grave concern to the country’s banana industry. Fusarium wilt, caused by Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense tropical wilt 4 (Foc TR4), typically attacks the Cavendish variety. This is problematic for the country’s Cavendish-based industry which provides jobs to more than 300,000 people and generates foreign revenues of more than 700 million US dollars.
Dr. Agustin Molina, senior scientist and Regional Coordinator of Bioversity International Asia-Pacific Office (APO), presented this scenario in SEARCA’s Agriculture and Development Seminar Series (ADSS) held on 7 February 2012 at SEARCA. He raised alarm of increasing epidemic reports among independent small-scale banana growers who do not have the technical capabilities to cope with this disease (those who are not serviced by multinationals).
Dr. Molina stated that unless appropriate mitigation measures are implemented, Cavendish-based farms would soon be less productive, production costs would increase, and the Philippine banana could potentially lose its competitiveness in the global market.
To mitigate the impacts of Fusarium wilt and prevent its spread, Dr. Molina recommended the use of available technologies for early detection and eradication of infected plants, the use of clean tissue-culture planting materials, adaptation of better cultural practices such as improved irrigation, and acceleration of research on biological and chemical controls.
The development and promotion of resistant varieties are likewise viable alternatives. Dr. Molina has been supporting the up-scaling of the evaluation and use of resistant Cavendish cultivars from Taiwan such as GCTCV 119 to help mitigate this serious disease problem. (Martha Lois O. Vallejo)