International Banana Congress hears how closer collaboration will yield better results in the fight against this destructive disease
Fusarium TR4 has galvanised the banana industry like never before. The evolution of joint strategies to contain its spread and develop disease resistant varieties have accelerated as the fungal strain has advanced from Asia to Africa and, more recently, into Latin America.
For the first time this week, three major coalitions – the Global Alliance Against TR4, the World Banana Forum and the Organisation for Plant Protection and Animal Health (OIRSA) – came together at Corbana’s International Banana Congress in Miami to present their strategies for dealing with TR4 and potentially explore how they could work together more effectively.
The Global Alliance Against TR4 is a private-public alliance bringing together key global players in the banana supply chain, working on several fronts, such as prevention, training and genetic improvement.
“In essence, the aim is to contain the disease and buy time until a TR4-resistant variety has been developed,” Gabriel Rodríguez of the alliance’s organising committee, the Interamerican Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture (IICA), told delegates.
He admitted that securing funding has been a problem due to the economic fallout from Covid and war in Ukraine, but said the alliance is making progress on several fronts. “This year will be crucial,” Rodríguez told delegates. “We are set to launch a major marketing push to inform the whole supply chain of the severity of what is happening. The campaign will launch in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, before moving on the US during its second phase.”
Work is also underway to develop a variety resistant to TR4. The fungus is now present in three Latin American countries: having first been detected in Colombia in 2019, it was found in Peru two years later and recently, its presence has also been confirmed in Venezuela.
For Rodríguez the message is clear: “If we don’t do anything we face the perfect storm, but if we act fast, we can prevent disaster,” he said. “We urge everyone to join the alliance.”
According to OIRSA’s Carlos Ramon Urías, TR4, together with fruit fly and HLB, are the three phytosanitary issues that are most impacting fruit production globally. As the coalition of plant health authorities in a group of Central American countries, OIRSA’s priority is to prevent TR4 from reaching the region. Outlining the extensive action plan the organisation has developed, Urías noted that “prevention is our best line of attack”.
The World Banana Forum (WBF), meanwhile, is working on its own TR4 risk management programme covering four areas: research and development, training, governance and biosecurity.
The WBF was convened by the United Nations’ food and Agriculture Organisation as a means of promoting open dialogue between different participants in the global banana supply chain on the challenges faced by the industry.
Jaime Cardenás, an international consultant for the FAO, said the industry should be open to closer collaboration in the fight against TR4. “We need to find ways of strengthening regional and inter-institutional coordination and improving the training of institutions and workers in individual countries so we can strengthen biosecurity and slow down the spread of the disease,” he said.
All three speakers agreed that closer inter-regional and inter-sectorial collaboration offers the best hope of defence against the devastation of TR4.
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