Science News

Banana fungus parasite reaches Latin America

Researchers feared it for some time, and now, the Colombian Agricultural Institute has issued a press release in which it is confirmed that four banana plantations in the north of the country have been put in quarantine in advance. The suspicion is that the trees may have been from the parasitic fungus Fusarium oxysporum, specifically from the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) strain, which causes a deadly disease in plants by killing their lymphatic system.

This serious illness had already spread to Asia where it showed that it could literally wipe out entire banana fields, leading, among other things, to the ruin of farmers and all the supply chains of the case. All the central and South American countries have entered into alert even if the infection has yet to be confirmed. There is talk of regions that are among the largest exporters of bananas in the world with countries such as Colombia, Guatemala and Costa Rica that make the export of bananas one of the cornerstones of their economy.

The TR4 strain represents a variation of the so-called Panama disease, a banana disease that already caused considerable problems in the middle of the last century, a pandemic for which the banana industry has made no small effort to recover. However, this strain is much more resistant. It emerged for the first time in Indonesia during the 60s and then spread to many other countries in the world but had not yet reached the countries of Central-South America, the main banana production area in the world.

Farmers and local governments are holding their breath: “We are trying to do it as quickly as possible, but it takes time,” says Fernando Garcia Bastidas, one of the researchers involved in the analysis of samples taken from suspect trees.

As the researchers themselves admit, the tactics that have been implemented in other parts of the world to counteract this parasitic fungus, including replanting with clean soil or very expensive biosecurity measures, could probably not be implemented in Central and South America for the vastness of the fields of production and because many of the companies involved are small family companies or in any case subjects that cannot afford expensive control measures.