|Emma Ramillete and Dr.Agustin Molina posing with resistant
Cavendish variant from Taiwan at Lapanday Rarm in Callawa,
The Fusarium Wilt disease of Cavendish banana that has been played up in the media is a real threat to the multi-million dollar banana export industry in the Philippines.
This is stressed by Dr. Agustin Molina, the senior scientist of Bioversity International, a non-government agency based in Rome that is particularly interested in promoting the banana industry worldwide.
He e-mailed thanking us for what we have written about Bioversity’s program in in collaboration with the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) and the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) of the Department of Agriculture. “Your articles, I am sure, will be read by international audience since Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is a very important global concern. It is still in the mind of the global banana industry how Panama Wilt devastated the banana industry in Central America in the ‘50s. It is called Panama Wilt because the first epidemic was in Panama in 1918.”
Dr. Molina said that the wilt disease that attacked that time was the Race 1 which affected the Gros Michel variety which was a favorite of the growers as well as the consumers in the world market. The Gros Michel produced big bunches and the fruits were sweet. It also had good transport quality. But then it was susceptible to the disease. Eventually, Gros Michel was replaced with Cavendish which was resistant to the Fusarium Wilt Race 1.
The Panama disease eventually spread to neighboring countries like Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia. Dr. Molina said these were the major banana producers at that time. Banana was such an important export crop in these countries, a major source of their foreign currency. And that’s probably the reason why these countries were called Banana Republics.
He said that it took the big banana companies 40 years of grappling with disease devastations and moving from one place to another to establish plantations. The big companies included United Fruits (now Chiquita), Dole and Del Monte. They were forced to change Gros Michel in the late ‘50s with Cavendish which was resistant to Fusarium Wilt Race 1.
Now, the TR4 is threatening not only the Cavendish in the Philippines but also other varieties like Lakatan and Latundan. The disease is a big threat if not given the right R&D attention for its mitigation, according to Dr. Molina. He says that TR4 first appeared in Taiwan in the late ‘60s causing lots of damage in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Then it appeared in Malaysia and Indonesia in the early ‘90s, making them uncompetitive.
Of course, the threat is not only on the Philippines. India (the biggest banana producer but mostly for domestic use) is also worried just in case the disease gets into that country. So with the growers in Central America and in Africa.