A new banana fungus is rapidly spreading across the world. The fungus hit Africa ten years ago, but it is now spreading, according to a genetic study conducted by Wageningen University & Research (WUR) and Utrecht University. According to Plant Pathology Professor Gert Kema and his colleagues, the disease poses a threat to Africa’s food security.
The Fusarium wilt is advancing in Mozambique, where the dominant TR4 strain is affecting banana farmers. Over the past decade, the disease also spread from Asia to South America and Africa.
The new study, conducted by Kema’s PhD student Anouk van Westerhoven and bioinformatics and data scientist Michael Seidl of Utrecht University, shows that the TR4 fungus has spread as far as at least 200 kilometres from the original site. Genetic research shows that the strains found in different locations are closely related, meaning that the pathogen found in Mozambique has a single origin.
Van Westerhoven: ‘That first outbreak was not controlled, after all. The disease continues to spread, including among small-scale farmers and people with banana plants in their gardens. They probably do not recognize the disease and, as a result, are unable to adequately treat it.”
‘The question is not whether, but rather when, the disease will spread to other African countries,’ she states.
In countries such as Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Ruanda, bananas are a staple food for millions of people. They often grow the Cavendish banana that is sold in supermarkets all over the world, but often also local banana strains. Professor Kema: “Whether or not they are susceptible to TR4 is not known for all strains. This disease thus threatens food security in those countries.”