THE banana industry is seeking the government’s help to manage and control the dreaded Panama disease or fusarium wilt in local banana plantations.
Banana growers, traders and stakeholders, backed up by scientific studies, are apprehensive the industry will suffer if it does not get the proper government interventions.
The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) said efforts to manage and prevent the spread of the Panama disease has so far been coming from the private sector.
PBGEA Executive Director Stephen A. Antig said the group is hoping the bill seeking the establishment of a banana research institute will be refiled in Congress under the incoming administration.
“We are hoping a banana research institute will be established to develop disease-resistant varieties of bananas,” he said, adding it will also assure the survival of the industry against the Panama disease.
Antig said the PBGEA has been pushing the establishment of a banana research institute since the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to help the industry come up with solutions for the prevention and management of banana pests and diseases.
However, the bill has been continuously overlooked as it was not considered a priority bill.
The PBGEA is also requesting President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte to include the banana industry among the priority sectors under the Philippine Export Development Plant 2015 to 2017.
“There is an urgent and essential need to sustain the competitiveness of Philippine bananas in the world market amid the threat of the Panama disease,” Antig said.
Panama disease is a fungal disease caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense that leads to the yellowing and wilting of banana leaves and, eventually, the death of the plant.
The PBGEA earlier told the BusinessMirror the disease could possibly wipe out local Cavendish bananas, much like what it did with the banana variety called the Gros Michel, which is now virtually extinct.
Scientists said a new strain of the Panama disease, known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4), currently poses a serious threat against the widely popular Cavendish bananas. However, scientists also claim the disease can be managed.
“Its management is actually prevention: We should prevent the spread of the disease in the plantations. The solution is to prevent its spread by quarantine. The disease does not spread rapidly, but it moves in the soil, it moves in the water,” said Agustin Molina, a Filipino scientist who leads Bioversity International’s banana research efforts in the Asia-Pacific region.
“We need to manage it because not all plantations in Mindanao are infected. It’s actually the areas of the small farmers that are affected, mostly small growers. They don’t know they have it and they don’t know what they are doing. They are more vulnerable because they don’t have technical and logistical capacities,” he said.
Dr. Maria Emilia Rita G. Fabregar, technical committee chairman of PBGEA, said the industry group has established a 3-hectare experimental site to determine the resilience of new banana varieties—particularly Giant Cavendish Tissue Culture Variety (GCTCV) 218 and 219—against TR4.
She said the new varieties were developed in Taiwan, where TR4 started in the 1990s.
The site, which is already infected by TR4, is planted with Gran Naine—the current variety of Cavendish being exported—and the two new varieties.
Fabregar said the experiment revealed Gran Naine to be highly susceptible to TR4, while GCTCV 218 and 219 were both resistant.
However, she admitted it is still too early to say which of the two new cultivars will be best to substitute Gran Naine when it is no longer viable to pursue its production.
Now that our president is rom Mindanao, the industry might get the help it needs from the government.
Since time immemorial, the banana industry has been neglected by the government despite the over 2 million people from Mindanao who are dependent on it for their livelihood and well being and even after raking in a billion dollar revenue that the whole country has benefitted from in terms of taxes. Now that the President is a Mindanaoan, maybe the agri sector will finally get the much needed support and assistance from the government.