Livelihoods of about 4,000 people at risk

Banana killer threatens Israeli plantations

Israel’s banana crop is an important part of the nation’s agricultural sector, but it is in danger of total obliteration. Tropical Race 4 (TR4) has so far wiped out six banana plantations in Israel, about 200 of a total 2,700 ha, but all the rest are threatened as well. Worldwide, it has devastated millions of hectares, causing billions of dollars in lost crops.”

The disease, a Panamian fungus that is an exclusive natural enemy of the banana plant, has survived all known fungicides. The only treatment is quarantine of the affected plants, which are all allowed to wither and die while the farmer hopes the rest of his banana plants will not be destroyed next.

In Shfeya, northern Israel, where most of the bananas in the country are grown, the recommended measures were taken: Trenches were dug around the stricken area to isolate it from the rest of the plantation, and the plot was covered with polyethylene sheets.

While TR4 is deadly to banana plants, it cannot harm humans, and consumers need not be concerned; even if the plant was infected, the fruit remains perfectly safe to eat.

“This thing… you could say it’s a disease, but it’s a fungus. It attacks the roots of the banana plant and the plant dies. It has nothing to do with the quality of the fruit. But from a PR standpoint, this is of no help because all the consumers hear is that there’s a disease, so for them, that’s a problem,” said Ofer Ariel, who represents local banana growers at the Plants Production Board.

Dr. Navot Galpaz, a subtropical crop researcher who specializes in bananas, agreed: “It’s very important to emphasize this. The fungus doesn’t affect the fruit and even if it did — this fungus only infects bananas. It doesn’t infect any other crop and it certainly cannot harm humans.” also quoted Dr. Dror Minz, head of the Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences Institute at the Volcani Center, who said it sometimes takes 10-20 years before bananas or anything else can be planted again in the affected soil.

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