15 Apr 2014

UN issues banana disease warning

2:19 pm on 15 April 2014

The United Nations food organisation is warning that if countries that grow bananas do not act decisively to combat a deadly fungal disease, the world's eighth most important food crop could face massive destruction.

It says fusarium wilt TR4 is not only threatening bananas, but the livelihoods of those who grow bananas too.

The wilt has recently spread from Asia to Africa and the Middle East, and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is urging countries that grow bananas to step up their monitoring.

FAO plant pathologist Fazil Dusunceli says the wilt is a fungal disease that lives in the soil and affects plants through their roots, colonising the stem and preventing the transportation of water and nutrients throughout the plant.

He says there are two big problems, firstly that the main banana cultivar Cavendish is highly susceptible.

"The second most important aspect is that the disease spreads physically through the transmission of infected plant materials or soil particles.

"And there maybe a number of means for that spread: shoes, vehicles, tyres, or boxes, tools, anything that you can think of that may facilitate this physical movement of these infected particles"

He says countries need to be monitoring for fusarium wilt and have action plans in place if they want to stop it spreading.

"The immediate action is where you see the disease - destroy the plant. There may be some temporary reduction in population of the fungus, but then it comes up again."

Fazil Dusunceli says efforts have to be taken to prevent its further spread.

"Australia is a good example, it was detected in a certain region but then it stopped there and in other parts banana plantations are producing good bananas."