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IICA & CPHD donate 1000 banana plants to SKN for performance evaluation in light of soil-borne pathogen threat

St. Kitts and Nevis December 2, 2023 (IICA SKN) – Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) Delegation in St Kitts and Nevis, in collaboration with the Caribbean Plant Health Directors Forum (CPHD) and the Ministry of Agriculture, brought 1,000 banana plants in vitro into the Federation of the Cavendish banana variety Formosana.  

The variety of the plant imported is tolerant to fungal disease that is devastating banana crops in other countries, which is a growing concern to countries in the region that produce bananas, especially for export, like St. Lucia and Dominica.

The fungal disease worrying many banana farmers is the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) Fusarium Oxysporum f. sp Cubense, leading to Banana Fusarium Wilt Disease or Panama Disease.  

The soil-borne pathogen attacks the banana roots, causing the Banana Fusarium Wilt Disease/Panama Disease by clogging its vascular system.  

The fungus has not been detected locally or in other regional territories. Still, it is a ‘Transboundary Disease of Concern’ to CARICOM countries, which can negatively impact all banana industries worldwide.

The disease is presently in Columbia, Peru and Venezuela.  

The fungus affects many varieties, including Cavendish bananas, which provide around half the global banana supply and almost all bananas exported.

More than 80% of global banana production is thought to be based on TR4 susceptible germplasm – seeds, plants, or plant parts useful in crop breeding, research, and conservation efforts. 

Once found in a field, TR4 can cause complete yield loss.

How does the fungus cause such devastation?

The fungus spreads through infected plant materials and contaminated soil particles attached to farm tools, shoes, clothes, animals and vehicles. 

It can also spread through irrigation systems and drainage. 

Climatic events such as typhoons and other storms can also carry the TR4 fungus to new plantations. 

The fungus also has a significant survival mechanism through its spores, which have a thick wall called chlamydospores and can remain dormant in the soil or on several host plants for decades.

What are the impacts of the TR4?

The fungus was first detected in Asia in the 1970s and was later known as ‘Tropical Race 4’. It then spread to Africa in 2013 and arrived in Latin America in 2019—where around 2/3 of the global banana trade originates. 

TR4 is recognised as one of the most aggressive and destructive fungi in the history of agriculture and the world’s most significant threat to banana production. 

The continued spread of TR4 would devastate communities relying on bananas for their livelihoods, whether through production or agro-processing and a loss for those who simply enjoy eating them. 

Bananas and plantains are critical to food security and contribute to the livelihoods of around 400 million people worldwide.

What is being done in the region to combat the concern of the TR4?

The Caribbean Plant Health Directors (CPHD) Forum distributed banana plants in vitro of the TR4 disease-tolerant variety Formosana to countries within CARICOM.  

Through the local IICA delegation, St Kitts and Nevis received the plants on November 24. They planted them in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture to evaluate their performance in local conditions.  

With the donation of the fungal-resistant strain of the Cavendish banana variety Formosana, IICA continues to show its proactive approach to helping bolster nutrition security in the Caribbean region with investments in training, financing, and consultation. 

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