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Fungus threatens leading banana variety

Latin America accounts for 80 per cent of exports (© FAO/Marco Salustro)
Latin America accounts for 80 per cent of exports
© FAO/Marco Salustro

A strain of the Fusarium soil fungus (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense) that attacks the main variety of export banana - the Cavendish - has been found in Mozambique and Jordan. First identified in Asia in the 1990s, the variety has already caused extensive damage. A different strain of Fusarium wiped out the Gros Michel cultivar in the 1950s, the main export variety at the time. In response, the industry began to cultivate the Cavendish variety, but it is not resistant to the newest strain and so experts are warning that if the new fungal strain reaches Latin America, which accounts for 80 per cent of exports, the impact could be disastrous. The fungus spreads slowly but is almost impossible to eradicate from infected soil.

Export bananas account for about 13 per cent of the 150 million tonnes of banana and plantain produced annually that are a staple food for around 400 million people. However, the fungus poses less of a threat to smallholder producers as they farm hundreds of cultivars. Researchers are currently looking at the susceptibility of these varieties. To slow the spread of the disease, good farm hygiene, and prompt quarantine and destruction of infected plants are crucial.

Date published: January 2014


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