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 →
The Philippines, the world’s third largest exporter of bananas, has lost up to a quarter of its banana plantations after typhoon Pablo, also known as typhoon Bopha, struck. The typhoon is one of the most powerful ever recorded in the island of Mindanao and has caused the deaths of over 400 people as well as destroying huge areas of agricultural regions. Stephen Antig, the executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association has said that while analysis is still in progress the damage to the banana industry is likely to be in excess of US$ 318 million after around 10,000 ha of banana plantations in the badly affected areas of Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte were destroyed. The impact of the typhoon on Philippino banana production has huge implications for many farmers and businesses since bananas are one of the key export industries in the country. Approximately 150,000 people depend on the banana industry in Compostela Valley alone. There are further concerns that the storm may encourage the spread of Panama disease in the region, a disease caused by Fusarium oxysporum which severely affects banana plant yields.
Recovery and replanting will be a slow process, since once planted bananas take a further 9 months to mature until they can be harvested, but it is hoped the Department of Agriculture will be able to provide an assistance program.
Black sigatoka, or black leaf streak disease, a disease of bananas and plantains caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis, has caused widespread losses to banana crops over the past 50 years. A new study of the phylogeography of black sigatoka on banana leaves from around the world has helped to elucidate the recent origins of this fungal disease. Continue reading →
Scientists in the UK and Uganda are developing a genetically modified (GM) variety of banana that is resistant to nematode worms, which account for a high percentage of banana crop losses in Africa. It is estimated that the losses of crops due to nematodes amounts to $125 billion a year. Currently, nematodes are controlled using pesticides that can be toxic to humans and other organisms. The project, run by the Africa College at the University of Leeds and funded by BBSRC and DfID, has provided training to African-based scientists and aims to conduct trials of the banana plants in several African countries. Continue reading →