Panama Epidemic Invades Banana Crops in Laos

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A team of researchers from Bioversity International in collaboration with local experts, have recently reported that the popular Cavendish banana grown in Laos, has been infected with Fusarium oxysporum Tropical Race 4 (TR4) at banana plantations north of Vientiane.

Also known as Panama disease TR4, the disease is a soil-borne fungus that causes severe epidemics and crop losses in Cavendish plantations. Though considered one of the most destructive diseases found in banana plants worldwide, the epdemic doesn’t harm people or other fruit varieties.

However, banana plants that are affected by Panama disease seldom produce marketable bunches. Once the disease is established, the fungus persists in the soil for many years, making the production of banana varieties, such as Cavendish, economically unviable.

With the Cavendish banana accounting for 45 percent of all bananas grown worldwide, leading producer Mainland China has expanded commercial production into neighboring countries such as Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

In late October of this year, a team of 4 researchers spent 3 days surveying and observing plantations along the Vientiane-Vang Vieng road axis. It was discovered on a 45 hectares field that crops of Cavendish bananas established in 2014 for export to China, had lost half of the production area due to severe epidemic of Foc TR4. Chinese managers reported to scientists that the disease appeared at early stages after planting, suggesting that the nursery plants which were imported from China were infected before importation.

The Panama disease is most commonly spread by the movement of infected plant material, but can also spread with soil and water movement or by contaminated equipment. Researchers theorize that the initial outbreak in the area was due to infected nursery plants, indicating that little attention is being paid to the threat of TR4 by the Chinese banana growing companies.

The infiltration of Foc TR4 in Laos does not only threaten the rapidly expanding Chinese Cavendish banana production, but also susceptible popular varieties grown by small farmers for local markets in Laos.

Source: APS Journals

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