Mozambique banana fungal disease concern S. African farmers

The banana fungal disease, panama disease, has been present in northern Mozambique for the past few years. There are now concerns among banana farmers in South Africa that should this soil-borne fungus spread there, it could put the whole banana industry at risk. 

Professor of the Department of Plant pathology of the University of Stellenbosch, Altus Viljoen is actively involved in the study of these kinds of diseases in bananas.

Viljoen says they have been monitoring the various TR4 strains over the past couple of years. "The new one, the TR 4, the Tropical Race 4, is one that was basically limited to Asia for about 20 years, and that is now spreading to other parts of the world, and that is the one that has been introduced in the northern part of Mozambique now, that is a very severe one, simply because this strain does not need any stress situation on the banana plant it can simply affect it under all different conditions."

He says, "The disease was first seen in 2013 and then we did the identifications for them around June in 2013, and it spreads really rapidly. So we actually believe it was introduced maybe two or three years before the symptoms became so visible."

Viljoen says the Mozambican government has already quarantined the movement of banana plant materials in northern Mozambique. Umbahah Estates is a large banana grower in the Hazyview and Komatipoort area.

CEO of Umbhaba Estates, Roy Plath, says they are very concerned that this fungus might be transferred to South Africa. He says research is being done to try and find a way to manage this fungus and stop it from spreading.

"One of the main ways that they're trying to overcome this disease now is to move to a different cultivar of bananas. So they're looking to breed banana plants that have a resistance naturally to the soil fungus. So at the moment our whole banana group of cultivars is from a Cavendish and so there are other groups that one could breed a different strain of bananas from, but the whole world relies on strains of the Cavendish group of bananas, which is now so susceptible to demise through this fungus in the soil."


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