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Philippines: Natural controls may still be key to banana wilt

There are hopes that natural control processes may still prove effective against banana wilt disease. Chemical controls are ineffective as the soil, once infected with the disease, can not be replanted for at least a decade.

Last year the Department of Agriculture said that 200ha were affected by the disease. It was of particular concern for small scale growers who lack the resources to deal with the disease.

In December, the DA allocated P253 million to combat the disease.This year a further P50 million is being allocated for surveying, monitoring, combating of the disease and for quarantine, provision of alternative crop varieties and installation of tyre baths and checkpoints.

Quarantine, for example, will involve isolating infected areas by heating the soil around the banana plants with burning rice hulls or charcoal.

Together with the Filipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), several towns have already restricted the movement of planting materials in infected areas.

Training will be carried out so that banana workers will be able to identify the disease at the earliest possible opportunity.

In the next five years, P200 million will be devoted to research and development, including the field-testing of new varieties.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has met with banana growers and exporters as well as researchers to discuss the next steps in the ongoing response against the Panama disease.

"We acknowledge the urgency of the issue," said DOST Secretary Mario G. Montejo who is pushing for a "science and technology intervention" in managing the disease, including disease management measures and the development of a resistant variety.

Studies are going to be carried out to try and ascertain why some soils seem more likely to support the disease than others.

Starting this year, the Southern Mindanao Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium (SMARRDEC) will commence a two-year science and technology intervention involving, among other things, biological control agents, suppressive soils and resistant varieties.

Among the microbial agents, foremost is Trichoderma fungus, an ingredients in rapid composting technologies. Studies show that wilting is delayed by as much as two months in seedlings treated with the fungus prior to planting.

Seventy-three percent of infected plants treated with Trichoderma recover a month after its application. Mass production of Trichoderma is being pushed so that field validation can begin, especially in small farms.

Research will look at soil-inhabiting fungi that enhance the banana’s ability to repel or resist infection. The fungi form mutually beneficial or symbiotic relationships with at least 80 percent of all plants.

When the fungi colonize the roots of a host plant, they improve the plant’s ability to absorb fertilizer and other nutrients from the soil. They also enhance the retention of moisture around the roots. In some instances, the fungi release substances into the soil that inhibit the growth of infectious organisms.

The most cost-efficient measure may still be resistant varieties. Field trials done by the PBGEA and Bioversity International show that the variety GCTCV 119 is resistant to the Panama disease.

GCTCV-119 is a Cavendish variety with resistance to the Fusarium fungus that causes the Panama disease. Its fruit is different from the ordinary Cavendish in its greater sweetness, starchy texture and dark shiny peel.

Location trials of the variety will determine how it will fare in soil that is already infested by the fungus. Also, partners will be piloting fertilization methods to include the use of organic fertilizer.

The evaluation of new varieties from Taiwan, including Cavendish varieties GCTCV-119 and GCTCV-218, was initiated under the S&T Anchor Program on Banana.

With the support of Bioversity International through the National Repository, Multiplication and Dissemination Centers, these varieties were evaluated in commercial plantations in Davao.

Compared to the commercial varieties Grand Naine and Williams, the GCTCV-119 and 218 were highly resistant and have comparable yield and fruit quality.

PBGEA Executive Director Stephen Antig,, said it is still studying the possible of planting the GCTCV 119 and 218 varieties developed by the Taiwan Research Institute in the 1990s when Taiwan and Indonesia were infected by a strain of the disease.

These resistant Cavendish are sweet but a little less smaller compared to the original Cavendish variety. The plants grow almost within the same time span and adapts to the same environment – and are resistant to the disease.

Source: www.malaya.com.ph

Publication date: 3/23/2012


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