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Cirad launches alliance to address threats to global banana production

Fusarium TR4 threatens to destroy banana plantations. This disease arrived very recently in Latin America, where 80% of the global exports of dessert bananas depart from. Also called the Panama disease (tropical race 4) this incurable disease is spreading rapidly, leaving no chance for the Cavendish varieties, which represent 100% of the dessert banana productions for export. Given the urgency of the situation, Cirad launched an initiative, the World Musa Alliance, on February 6th, 2020, at Fruit Logistica in Berlin. The aim is to bring together the maximum number of actors to rapidly come up with solutions to these threats to the global banana production.

Fusarium TR4 arrived on the American continent in 2019, after appearing in Southeast Asia, part of the Near East and East-Africa (only Mozambique), threatening the banana production at the global level. The disease is caused by a soil fungus and causes significant yield losses. The Cavendish, variety, which has been dominating the export sector for decades, is particularly affected. Faced with the potential economic and social impacts of this disease, Cirad proposes to act both on the diversity of varieties and on agricultural practices to contain it, within the World Musa Alliance.

The objectives of this alliance are to produce the knowledge necessary to develop new varieties and production systems, as well as to create varieties resistant to TR4.

More genetic diversity
Diversifying varieties and changing agricultural practices: these are the two main messages conveyed by the founding document of the alliance, revealed on February 6th. “And it is not a question of doing one or the other, but both simultaneously,” insists Denis Loeillet, Cirad correspondent for the banana sector.

The “all Cavendish” variety is showing its limitations. The variety currently used everywhere is extremely susceptible to Fusarium TR4. In order to avoid reproducing the Gros Michel scheme, which was the dominant variety before it succumbed to race 1 fusarium in the 1960s, Cirad proposes to introduce some genetic diversity in the export sector.

But genetically improving the banana tree, which is extremely complex, will not be enough to secure the sector. In order to fight the disease, it is also necessary to develop adapted cropping systems. Finally, it is also the opportunity to revisit the production systems in order to increase their biodiversity and reduce the use of pesticides.

Federating a maximum number of actors
“We suggest that this alliance gathers a wide range of stakeholders throughout the sector, which will be one of its major strengths. It will depend on a close coordination between the key players of the sector (producers, sales operators, interprofessionals) and research centers. We also propose that this alliance works according to a principle of production of common goods accessible to all,” as stated in the founding document of the alliance. The first to have signed the document will propose the operating principles of this initiative, its governance and financing methods in the coming months.

Global banana market under threat from Fusarium TR4
The global banana and plantain production represents 137 million tons, including 70% of dessert bananas and 30% of bananas for cooking. The entire global dessert banana market (more than 20 million tons) is based on the Cavendish variety, which represents more than half of the global production. It is the most traded fruit in the world.

In tropical and subtropical regions, local markets are mainly supplied by productions from family farms. The bananas are an important source of nutrients and a guarantee of revenue for the rural populations. After reaching South America in 2019, Fusarium TR4 is now attacking the largest production area for export bananas (80%) and threatens to destroy the sector. Indeed, the most cultivated varieties all belong to one group, the Cavendish, which is highly susceptible to the disease. With the decrease in production, the import markets are of course impacted, as well as the local markets and the hundreds of thousands of producers and farm workers.

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