Two banana varieties developed in Taiwan that have been observed to be resistant to Fusarium Wilt will soon be disseminated to small-scale banana farmers in the Davao provinces whose Cavendish bananas are being attacked by the wilt disease.
The new project is a collaboration of the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) and Bioversity International (BI) represented by Dr. Agustin B. Molina, it’s senior scientist and coordinator of its livelihood programs in Asia-Pacific.
The project is in response to the increasing threat of the Fusarium Wilt disease in Cavendish banana plantations, both in the large scale farms as well as in the farms of small-scale independent growers.
Lately, the government authorities as well as the big plantation owners themselves have been alarmed by the increasing incidence of infections by the disease in the banana plantations in the Davao provinces and other Cavendish growing areas in Mindanao.
Naturally the different stakeholders are getting alarmed. After all, Fusarium wilt is a very serious banana disease. In the early 1950s the disease wiped out the vast banana plantations in Panama planted with the Gros Michel variety. This was eventually replaced with Cavendish which was found to be resistant to Fusarium Wilt Race 1.
But there is a Fusarium Wilt that attacks Cavendish, the Tropical Race 4.The TR4 ravaged the Cavendish plantations in Taiwan which was one of the major producers of Cavendish banana for export to Japan and elsewhere in the ’70s and ‘80s. Then in the early ’90s TR4 prevented the growth of the Cavendish banana industry in Indonesia and Malaysia.
What makes the current Fusarium Wilt in the Philippines (called Tropical Race 4 or TR4) more alarming is that it also infects other locally grown varieties such as Lakatan and Latundan. Only Saba and Cardaba seem to be tolerant.
Under the project with a budget of P16-million, two varieties observed to be resistant to Fusarium TR4 will be planted in at least 20 pilot areas consisting of infected farms of at least four hectares per farmer. The varieties to be planted are GCTCV 119 and 219 that were developed in Taiwan and introduced in the Philippines by Bioversity. GCTCV stands for Giant Cavendish Tissue Culture Variant. Dr. Molina explained that among tissue-cultured plants there are some variants that possess some desirable characteristics.
These variants have been field tested in recent years at the Lapanday Cavendish plantation in Callawa, Davao City. It was Dr. Molina who convinced the owners of Lapanday to field test the said variants in places where Fusarium infection was observed. And of the different varieties tested, No. 119 and No. 219 have proven to be unaffected by the disease even if they were planted near the infected plants that have died.
What’s good about No. 119 and 219 is that the fruits are well accepted in the world market, especially in Japan. Dr. Molina said that the fruits of the variants are sweeter than the standard varieties, and that is a quality preferred by the Japanese buyers.
The only not so major disadvantage, Dr. Molina said, is that the bunches are a little smaller than the Grand Naine and Williams varieties that are currently grown in the Philippines. The plants also mature about two weeks later. But then what is more important is that they are not affected by Fusarium Wilt and the fruit quality is very good.
To make sure that the planting materials that will be grown in farmers’ fields are disease-free, they will be multiplied by means of tissue-culture. Lapanday, through Dr. Emily Fabregar, will be doing the tissue culturing of materials from disease-free mother plants.
The farmers will be involved in the hands-on operation in culturing the banana plants, from land preparation, seedling hardening, fertilization, irrigation and drainage under the guidance of technicians from the Department of Agriculture as well as by Dr. Molina himself. But the farmer has to be actively involved, including having to pay for the fertilizer, so that he will have a strong sense of participation.
The result of the pilot testing will showcase the improved practices that could mitigate the onslaught of the Fusarium disease. The technologies involved will then be disseminated to the rest of the Cavendish growers, particularly the small-scale independent growers.
Dr. Molina said that the independent growers play a major role in the production of bananas for the export market. In fact, they are responsible for producing 50 percent of the Cavendish exports today.