Banana disease threat to Latin American growers
May 26, 2020 - The fungal disease fusarium wilt is ravaging the $25 billion banana industry. A strain known as Tropical Race 4 is now spreading among the banana heartlands of Latin America.
Latin America, together with the Caribbean, accounts for around 80 per cent of world banana exports. As the world’s biggest exporter, Ecuador, which shares a border with Colombia, shipped some $3.3 billion worth of the fruit last year, the equivalent of 3% of the economy.
Currently, fusarium wilt is once again the biggest threat to worldwide banana production. In the 1990s, TR4 occurred in Cavendish variety banana plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan. Since then, TR4 has spread to the neighbouring countries of the Philippines, China, and Australia, as well as more distant locations including Pakistan, India, Oman, Jordan, and Mozambique. TR4 arrived in Colombia late last year.
The fungus infects the roots of the banana plants and grows up through the water-conducting, vascular system of the plant. Eventually, this blocks the water transport of the plant, and the banana plants start wilting before they can set fruits.
Fusarium wilt is not new. It entirely wiped out Gros Michel (Big Mike), the dominant export variety of bananas in the 1950s, but the industry fought back and introduced the Cavendish to consumers.
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