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Philippines: Panama disease feared to hit C. Mindanao banana industry

The Department of Agriculture in Central Mindanao has formed a task force to prevent a possible outbreak of a devastating disease afflicting banana plantations in the area, officials have confirmed. Abusama Alid, regional agriculture director, warned corporate and individual banana growers in the region of the possible outbreak of Panama disease or Fusarium wilt.

"Presently, we have not monitored any incidence of Panama disease across the region. We created the task force in anticipation of its occurrence," he said. The region hosts at least three large banana producers, Global Fruits Corp., Dole Stanfilco, and Upland Banana Corp.

Alid described Panama disease as a highly destructive disease affecting the vascular system of banana plants that could wipe out the region's banana industry in case of an outbreak.

Owing to the threat, the regional Agriculture office has started distributing leaflets to banana growers funded through the project "Regional Initiatives Against Fusarium Wilt" under the high value crop program.

Alid said chemical control measures are not effective against the Panama disease and the soil, once infected with the pathogen, cannot be planted with susceptible cultivars up to 10 years or more.

The causal organism use a soil-borne fungus, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cubense (FOC), which colonizes the xylem of susceptible varieties to cause a terminal wilt, the regional Agriculture office said in a statement.

The varieties that are susceptible to Panama disease are latundan, senorita and lakatan. Recently, Cavendish succumbed to the new race (Race 4) of the disease. Saba or cardava, on the other hand, is a resistant cultivar, the statement added.

Winnie Osorio, Upland Banana community relations and development officer, said in a separate interview that they are closely watching their plantations in T'boli town against possible infection of Panama disease. "We are also closely monitoring private farmers' plantations in the town since if their fields will be infected, it will likely spread to our farms," he said.

Upland Banana maintains some 1,700 hectares of banana plantation in T'boli town through lease agreement schemes with landowners. Osorio said the company is willing to extend assistance to the task force should it seek the firm's help.

He lauded the preventive mechanisms put in place by regional Agriculture officials regarding Panama disease, which Osorio said "wiped-out the banana industry of Panama." According to the leaflet from the regional Agriculture office, Panama disease was first reporter in the Western Hemisphere, particularly Costa Rica and Panama , in 1890. Shortly thereafter, it spread to tropical America and Africa and in Asia in 1910.

In the Philippines , it was first reported in 1920 on latundan variety in Los Banos and Calamba, Laguna and in municipalities of Batangas. It was first confirmed in commercial Cavendish far in 1974 and 1979. The pathogen totally destroyed 13 hectares of latundan farms in Eden, Toril in Davao City .

Recently, the most devastating FOC that belongs to vegetative compatibility group 01213 of the tropical race 4 has been identified to be present in the country, specifically in Region XI or the Davao region, which is a neighbor of Central Mindanao region.

Alid, who is also head of the task force, said the task force will create a "strategic quarantine plan" and recommend measures to contain or prevent the introduction and spread of diseases in banana. The task force shall also oversee and lead in the development of a disease map of major banana diseases in the region, he said.


Publication date: 7/18/2007


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