Wednesday, 11 December 2013

IN THE FIELD - Going bananas in the Philippines

In November, Graduate Officer Bonnie Flohr travelled to Davao City, Mindanao in the Philippines as part of a team scoping future research that will help smallholder banana growers there, as well as banana growers in Australia... 

I travelled with representatives from Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (QDAFF) and from the Australian Banana Growers Council. We were all relieved to arrive at our intended destination despite the terrible destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan further north in the country a few days earlier. We arrived in Davao with a different problem on our minds, namely the destructive fungal disease Fusarium wilt (or Panama disease) that affects bananas. 

Banana packing shed in Mindanao

Bananas are a major fruit crop in the Philippines, for both domestic consumption and export. In Mindanao, around 82,000 hectares are planted with Cavendish bananas. These bananas are threatened by a virulent race of Fusarium fungi, called Fusarium oxysporum cubense Tropical Race 4 (FOC TR4), which causes wilt disease. This fungus can overcome the bananas' resistance mechanisms and wipe crops out. Once a farm becomes contaminated with TR4, the fungus can’t be eradicated. If a resistant banana variety can’t be grown in place of the susceptible one, the best bet is to contain the disease and minimise the spread of infected material, especially soil.

In Australia, over 90% of bananas grown are also of the Cavendish variety and susceptible to TR4. Although this fungal race is present in Australia, it has not stretched its reach to the major banana-growing areas of Queensland. So, banana growers here face a common threat to their bananas and their livelihoods.
This project provides the opportunity for Filipino and Australian researchers and farmers to band together to identify how FOC can be best managed, for mutual benefit.
An abandoned piece of land on a local farmer’s banana plantation, which had been
infected with FOC TR4. Although the block has been cleared, infested soil could be
spread to the neighbouring healthy ones by boots, machinery, water, etc.

The Australian team spent five days in the Davao region to identify the nature and extent of the Fusarium wilt problem, and the current and future priorities for research and development. During this time the team consulted with local farmers, government representatives, the private sector and local scientists. After just one field trip it became clear to me that the TR4 situation in this region is very severe and spreading rapidly.

I attended a two-day workshop on the socio-economic impacts of Fusarium wilt disease of Cavendish bananas in the Asia–Pacific Region. It aimed to determine where we are at with research in this area, and to help work out directions for future research. The research priorities identified for the Philippines were: methods to control the spread of Fusarium wilt, to manage the disease once a plantation is infected, and best ways for this information to be extended to smallholder farmers.

Cable ways are used to transport bananas from the field to the packing shed and often
pass through numerous farms—an activity likely to be moving soil infected
with FOC TR4 to other areas.
 A project proposal is now being drawn up by QDAFF based on this information. The research will address these priorities, building on previous ACIAR work on banana wilt disease in Indonesia.

As a graduate officer at ACIAR, being part of this scoping mission was particularly insightful. I learnt a lot about the banana industry, one that I previously had little knowledge about. I also learnt firsthand what ACIAR’s role is in fostering projects that are so significant to the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

By Bonnie Flohr, ACIAR Graduate Officer

More information:
ACIAR project in Indonesia: HORT/2008/040 Integrated crop production of bananas in Indonesia and Australia

ACIAR's Horticulture research program
ABC Rural article on Disease give bananas an 'uncertain future'

1 comment:

  1. Hi, great article, I was just wondering if the fungi would affect cooking banana's or is it restricted to this variety? in Papua New Guinea there are alot of different types of cooking bananas.

    Lucy Timmer


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