IT HAS been nearly two decades since the Fusarium wilt, also known as the Panama disease, was discovered in Davao Region.
Since then, the disease has been wrecking havoc in banana plantation all over the region. As of 2015, data from the Department of Agriculture-Davao (DA-Davao) Regional Crop Protection Center (RCPC) showed that a total of 15,507 hectares of banana plantations in Davao Region have been affected by Tropical Race 4 (TR4), a strain of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (FOC) that causes the Panama disease.
In a SunStar Davao report by Reuel John F. Lumawag on September 18, 2019, Virgelio Gutierrez, science research specialist of the DA-Davao RCPC, said they are expecting the areas to double after they are done with their survey this year.
He said one of the main causes of the doubling of areas affected by the Panama disease is the recent flooding in these areas. He said the floods serve as a carrier to the disease, which is soil-borne. The disease being soil-borne means that it is transferred by movement of infested soil particles through any means such as shoes, vehicles or through the water.
According to the Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), "The pathogen enters through the roots, progresses through the stem, and causes serious damage to the plant. The TR4 strain of the fungus is known to infect the highly susceptible Cavendish bananas."
In response to combating the disease, DA in the past has been providing small farmers with GCTV 218, a banana that has shown resistance to the FOC TR4. The agency has also provided farmers bio-control agents to manage the disease.
However, there is a need for the government to implement stronger security measures to protect the industry more than ever.
The banana industry is currently among the biggest industries in the agricultural sector of Davao Region. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that as of the first quarter of 2019 banana remains to be the top export commodity of the region.
First quarter data shows that a total of 1.03 billion kilogram of Cavendish and other bananas were exported with a value of US$ 469.7 million.
The industry also directly and indirectly generates jobs for those living outside the urban centers.
There is a need for the government, together with its partners, to develop ways that will combat the disease.
Research on fighting the Panama disease is currently ongoing. However, we cannot rush scientific process. It will be a while before we can find a cure to the disease.
For now, we have to make do with what we have and do our best to manage and control the spread of the disease. If we do nothing right now, maybe the industry will be wiped out before a cure can be found.