The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has launched an emergency project under its Technical Cooperation Program to help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean fight the spread of Fusarium wilt, a fungal plant disease that can wipe out the banana crops upon which the livelihoods of millions of people depend.
The disease—caused by the most recent strain (Tropical Race 4, TR4) of the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense—affects the production of many varieties of plantains and bananas, including Cavendish, one of the globally most popular varieties in the market. TR4 damages the roots and stems of the plant and, while not harmful to human health, can lead to 100% yield losses, making it a major concern for countries and communities where banana production is a critical source of food, household income, and export revenues.
TR4 is a pathogen that can be transmitted through movement of infested planting materials, contaminated soil, water, or other physical means such as shoes, tools, and tires. Once established, the pathogen remains in the soil for decades; currently, there is no way to eradicate it completely.
However, measures do exist that can be effective in limiting the spread of the disease, including: implementing appropriate preventive and phytosanitary measures, establishing the right regulatory environment, raising awareness, building multi-stakeholder collaborations, engaging with the private sector and smallholder farmers, supporting increased biodiversity, improving the effective use of genetic resources, developing disease management and recovery programs, and improving monitoring and early action.
“This emergency project will assist countries in developing regional and national action plans, increasing their capacities to prevent, diagnose, monitor, and contain outbreaks, and raise awareness and disseminate information among farming communities,” said Julio Berdegué, FAO assistant director-general and regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. “National governments, like those of Ecuador and Colombia, are providing active and intelligent leadership, and we are solidly behind them.”
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