THE world’s most devastating disease for bananas, the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) also known as fusarium wilt and Panama disease continues to spread threatening the country’s leading export commodity and active economic driver: Cavendish bananas.
The worst-case scenario is not properly addressed: extinction of the Cavendish variety.
This, as projected by the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association Inc. (PBGEA) executive director Stephen A. Antig in an interview with Sun.Star Davao underscoring that there is a need to combat this pressing problem in the industry by developing a new variety of banana which is eyed to be disease-resistant to this kind of disease.
“This is becoming even more alarming, definitely if not contained, if we can’t stop the spread and if we can’t develop through our research and development a new variety that is disease-resistant, eventually banana Cavendish will be wiped out, it will be more like a banana apocalypse,” he said.
Panama disease is caused by the fungus Fusarium.
One of its effects is it produces chlamydospores, or resting spores, that stays in the soil for around 30 years. In an article, it is said that as soon as “a susceptible banana plant is grown nearby, these spores germinate, infect the plant, and kill it.
The soil gets contaminated once it becomes unfit for future banana production unless resistant varieties are grown. Antig emphasized that as the disease has still no cure, scientists and technical group members of the PBGEA now strengthen its bid to develop a new variety of banana which is eyed to be disease-resistant to combat the pressing problem in the industry brought by diseases like the TR4 or Panama disease.
PBGEA has invested some P50 to P100 million in developing the variety since it started the initiative in 2012.
“Our investment continues to grow, apparently as far as our research is concerned we are still in the process of developing it because we are still not able to come up with a perfect new variety that will be resistant to these diseases,” he said adding that they have been doing trial and error for about three years.
He added that data is still being consolidated by the Department of Agriculture on how much impact and damage did the disease caused to the industry.
At present, banana industry players are only implementing mitigating measures such as quarantine, and isolation of Panama-disease free banana plantation, among others.
Antig said that Calinan, Davao City, Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, and the rest of Mindanao is now been slowly affected by the disease.
Once the new variety that is disease-resistant will be developed in some time, banana industry players will face another challenge that is to convince the consumers and market to convert from the Cavendish to the new variety as it will have a difference in taste.
“That is for sure, there will be changes in taste, but as far as the physical appearance and nutrients it contains are concerned, we can assure them it will remain the same,” Antig said, adding that the next step after developing the new variety is the conduct of consumer and market survey.
“We cannot afford not to be positive on facing the problems in the industry or else we will lose one of the biggest contributors in the Philippine economy,” he said.