Destructive banana fungus spreads from Asia to Africa

The UN warned of possible “massive destruction” of the annual global $5 billion (R52 billion) banana crop as the TR4 strain of Panama disease spreads from Asia to Africa and the Middle East.

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The Cavendish banana variety, which accounts for 47% of world production, is especially susceptible.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said the disease, which had been reported in Jordan and Mozambique, was threatening banana production and export, according to Sapa.

The soil-borne fungal disease affects the plants that have to be cut down, with trenches dug between rows to prevent fungal spread. There is no known cure for TR4.

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“It’s not a question of whether it will arrive but when,” said Gert Kema, of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, who manages

Fazil Dusunceli, a plant pathologist at FAO, said countries needed to act to avoid massive destruction of much of the world’s banana crop.

Kobus Lourens, chairperson of the Banana Growers’ Association of South Africa, said that growers were aware of the disease and saw it as a potential threat, but it was currently only active in the northern areas of Mozambique.

Lourens said that there would be a symposium in Stellenbosch next week to discuss possible solutions and the containment of the disease. estimates that over 100 million tons of bananas are traded every year, with the US being the biggest market.

The soil-borne fungus can remain viable in the soil for decades and the maintenance of soil health is important in containment programmes. Prevention includes the use of footbaths and measures to avoid movement of infected soil and planting materials into and out of farms.