Disease may wipe out PHL banana farms–FAO study

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GOVERNMENTS of banana-producing countries should intensify their interventions against the dreaded Fusarium wilt, which puts exporters like the Philippines at risk of losing thousands of hectares of plantations by 2028, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

In its biannual Food Outlook report published recently, the FAO dedicated a chapter on the spread and potential future impact of Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4) on banana production.

FAO said the recent discovery of TR4 strain of the disease in net-exporting regions of Latin America and the Caribbean, and the “enduring occurrence” of Fusarium wilt in Asia has caused “considerable alarm” in the banana export industry.

In its assessment, the FAO said the Philippines is among five exporting countries that would lose over 15 percent of their total banana plantations to the TR4 strain by 2028.

To make its assessment, the FAO used a partial equilibrium commodity market model and incorporated latest estimates made by experts. It adopted a 25-percent internal spread rate of Fusarium wilt, which was based on the prevalence of Cavendish monoculture in a producing country, international geographical, phytosanitary, transport and other factors.

“Scheerer et al. [2018] determine that the highest rates of spread will affect key producers in Asia, most notably China, the Philippines, Pakistan and Vietnam, as well as Mozambique and Tanzania in Africa,” the FAO report read.

Based on the working paper by Lars Scheerer and other experts, at a 25-percent loss scenario, the Philippines could lose 17.2 percent of its 391,880 hectares of banana plantation to TR4 by 2028. This translates to an area reduction of about 67,403.36 hectares.

The FAO estimated that 160,000 hectares of bananas globally could be gone by 2028, resulting in a direct displacement of approximately 240,000 banana workers. FAO said this would cut global banana output by 2.8 million metric tons and cause prices to go up by 9.2 percent.

The UN unit warned that banana producers in countries already affected by TR4 like the Philippines would incur “considerable losses” over the 10-year period.

“Future area and production losses are assumed to be greatest, translating into significant losses of gross incomes and employment in the banana sector” of China, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Mozambique, according to FAO.

“Looking at the potential impact on banana production by region, given the sizable projected area losses in several Asian and Southeast Asian countries, aggregate losses would be most pronounced in Asia, amounting to an estimated 3.9 million tonnes in 2028 relative to the baseline,” the report read.

“Again, because such substantial losses to the world market would result in a rise in the world reference price, producers in unaffected countries would receive a stimulus to increase their production, thereby partially offsetting the losses incurred in Asia,” the FAO added.

However, the FAO noted that the scenarios it presented are not predictive in nature but are “suggestive” and “indicative basis for informing policy decisions.”

“The simulation results suggestively illustrate the likely far-reaching repercussions that an unmitigated spread of TR4 would have on global banana markets,” it said.

Nonetheless, the FAO pointed out that banana-exporting countries should pay greater attention to the control and eradication of the TR4 since it posses “elevated risks” compared to previous strains.

Currently, the FAO said there is no effective fungicide or other eradication method that is capable of eliminating TR4.

“Governments of producing countries have a key role to play in mitigating the spread of TR4 and managing the disease where it has already emerged, particularly in view of its potential impact on smallholder banana farmers and workers employed in the industry,” the FAO said.

Citing official information, FAO said TR4 is currently confirmed in 17 countries, mostly in South and Southeast Asia.

In the Philippines alone, the FAO said around 15,700 hectares of banana plantations have already been affected by the dreaded fungus.

Image credits: Ceazar Perante

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