The Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cubense Tropical Race 4 fungus, a disease for which there is no cure yet and that has already affected some twenty countries, including Colombia, poses a threat to the entire banana and plantain industry.
The disease was detected in Colombia in 2019 and it's currently contained in 10 farms in the department of La Guajira. These farms have a total of 2,410 hectares planted with bananas for export, but only less than 2,300 hectares are affected by TR4, which forced their total closure and the adoption of drastic measures to prevent its dispersion.
"This fungus is of the chlamydospores type, which can survive in the soil for up to 20 and 30 years and become active again, so the risk is high for decades," stated Jorge Hernan Palacino, the national director of Plant Health of the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA). "We suspected the disease was in Colombia in July of 2019. Two months later, on August 8 of that year, Colombian laboratories and foreign universities confirmed its presence in the country," he said.
The risk for Colombia is high, especially if the disease reaches the Magdalena and Uraba regions (northwest). "Colombia has nearly 51,454 hectares planted with bananas for export, and 150,000 families live from this crop. The TR4 is a real threat to the country as the banana industry accounts for 75% of the economy of some areas of the country, such as the banana axis of Uraba –which includes the municipalities of Turbo, Apartado, Carepa, and Chigorodo," stated Emerson Aguirre, the president of the Association of Banana Growers of Colombia (Augura).
Exports haven't declined
Banana is the third export product of the Colombian agricultural sector and the country's leading export product to the European Union. The threat of the expansion of the fungus has not affected the international trade of the Colombian fruit but it has represented an extra cost of nearly 9 million dollars for the local producers, who had to adopt containment measures.
"We've been able to maintain exports because we have those 10 farms in La Guajira in quarantine. That measure has allowed us to safeguard the bananas and plantains from the rest of the country. In fact, since 2019, despite the disease, the trade balance for banana exports has been positive and trade relations with countries such as China have improved," Palacino said.