Monday 20 November 2017

Fungal disease threatens the €6.5bn global banana trade

Scientists are working to develop new varieties of bananas
Scientists are working to develop new varieties of bananas

A disease that damaged banana crops in South East Asia has spread to the Middle East and Africa, posing a risk to the €6.5bn banana industry, according to the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation.

The TR4 strain of Panama disease, a soil-born fungus that attacks plant roots, is deadly for the Cavendish banana that makes up about 95pc of supplies to importers, including North America and Europe, warned Fazil Dusunceli, from the Rome-based FAO.

While the disease hasn't reached top Latin America exporters such as Ecuador, Costa Rica or Colombia, TR4 was discovered in Jordan and Mozambique, indicating it moved beyond Asia, he said.

The world's largest producers say the problem can be controlled. Dublin-based Fyffes, which plans to merger with Chiquita to create the world's largest banana company, said it does not foresee any serious impact for banana supplies.

The FAO's Dusunceli told Bloomberg that the export market is "dominated by the Cavendish" which is susceptible to this particular disease.

Tens of thousands of hectares of banana crops in Indonesia, China, Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia have been destroyed since the TR4 strain first appeared in Asia in the 1990s.

Scientists are working to develop new varieties of bananas that might be resistant to the TR4 strain, "but until that time we just recommend that countries take measures to try to contain the disease," Mr Dusunceli said.

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