The banana is the world’s most popular fruit: we consume 100 billion of them a year. And yet, their future is threatened by a spate of diseases that are ravaging crops worldwide. Now, researchers have developed a tool to tackle these silent killers: an artificially-intelligent smartphone app that can scan banana plants for early signs of infection, and alert farmers before it takes hold on their crops.
Bananas we buy across the world could be threatened with extinction in the future. This claim is due to the decline of wild banana species which could be the last resort for saving the world’s most popular banana, the Cavendish.
“Bananas, along with lots of crop plants are under threat from pests and diseases. The reason that bananas are particularly threatened is their lack of genetic diversity.”
Listen to CABI’s very own Rob Reeder talk to Greg Peterson on this podcast from The Urban Farm. Rob talks in detail about the increasing threat to the global banana crop industry but he also tells Greg all about Plantwise.
Here’s a taste of some of the latest stories about plant health, including the discovery of a microbe that could help control rice blast, concern over the effects of erratic rainfall on crops in Somalia and the discovery of a gene encoding resistance to stem and fruit rot of pepper.
Caribbean banana farmers are abandoning fields where crops have been badly affected by Black Sigatoka disease. Black Sigatoka has badly affected several countries in the region, including Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada and Guyana. Black Sigatoka is considered the most destructive disease of bananas and plantains and is caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis. It first arrived in the Caribbean in 1991, and has since established and spread throughout the region. Severely infected leaves die, significantly reducing fruit yield and causing mixed and premature ripening of banana bunches. As part of the response to Black Sigatoka outbreaks in the Caribbean the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) provided an intensive training programme in management of the disease in Dominica back in June this year. The workshop trained technicians from Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, Guyana and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Caribbean’s tropical climate with high rainfall and high humidity is conducive to the spread of Black Sigatoka, hence the training program focused on the management of the disease, including the strategic and careful use of fungicides in order to manage the disease while aiming to prevent fungicide resistance developing. Last year, FAO provided an expert from Cuba to assess the management efforts of each country in the Caribbean affected by the disease, and identify areas for improvement. For each country, a management and action plan was created in conjunction with the CARICOM Secretariat, the OECS Secretariat, the Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute (CARDI), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), CIRAD, the Ministry of Food Production in Trinidad & Tobago and the Banana Board of Jamaica.
Dr. Fen Beed is an experienced plant pathologist based at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He leads research for development activities to mitigate the impact of diseases of maize, soybean, cowpea, cassava, banana and vegetables and promotes plant diseases on problematic weeds.
The first and critical step to manage a disease is to diagnose the causal agent(s). Once this is done, appropriate control methods can be deployed, based on available knowledge or on results generated from targeted research. IITA led an initiative to define the factors required to create a functioning disease surveillance network across a region.
The initiative targeted the two most serious threats to banana in the Great Lakes region of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA); namely banana Xanthomonas wilt (BXW), caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum (Xcm), and banana bunchy top disease (BBTD), caused by the banana bunchy top virus (BBTV). BXW and BBTD are established in several countries in SSA where banana production is of critical importance. Countries included were Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. In order, to strengthen both national and regional communication pathways, representatives from both national research organisations and national plant protection organisations agreed to form a network for regional surveillance of BXW and BBTD. The specific objectives were to share information on the diagnosis and management of these diseases and to map their distribution across locations that were of strategic importance to the region. Continue reading →