Links to online news on bananas

Fruit certification for TR4-infested farms in Australia

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Biosecurity Queenland announced that it has developed a system of certification for TR4-infested farms that meet the requirements for interstate and intrastate quarantine purposes (Inspection of bananas for freedom of soil and plant material). The system allows accredited businesses to certify their fruit consignments without putting the wider industry at risk. Accredited farms will be visited by biosecurity officers to audit the fruit inspection process and ensure that biosecurity requirements are being met.

NPPO declares TR4 eradicated from Israel

Friday, 01 June 2018

In May 2018, Israel's National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) officially declared that the TR4 fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in a wide range of bananas had been eradicated from Israel.

In 2016, symptoms of the disease on the cultivar 'Grande Naine' (a Cavendish type)  were observed by farmers from Shfeya (Carmel coastal plain). Two months later, similar symptoms were also observed by farmers from Kibbutz Ein Gev, along the eastern shores of Lake Galilee. Samples were collected from symptomatic banana plants and sent for diagnosis  to the Plant Protection and Inspection Services of the Ministry of Agriculture.  Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense was isolated from  symptomatic tissues and identified by PCR in July 2016. TR4 was confirmed by sequencing different regions of the genome (28S  ribosomal RNA, a putative pathogenicity protein gene, and TR4 marker genomic sequence). This was the first report of TR4 in Israel.  

The two outbreak areas were confined and placed under strict supervision and surveillance by the Israeli NPPO. The area was fenced and cordoned off. All affected plants were destroyed and irrigation terminated. Intensive surveys in adjacent plots conducted since 2016 did not detect the pathogen and no new incursions have been reported. The NPPO therefore concluded that TR4 had been successfully eradicated.

TR4 spreading in India

Thursday, 26 April 2018

The Hindu Business Line reports that TR4, the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish cultivars and a wide range of other types of bananas, has spread alarmingly accross India. First found in 2015 in the state of Bihar, in the northeastern part of the country, it has now spread to the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, on the west coast. The article says that banana farmers in the country are not aware of the serious nature of TR4.

First report of TR4 in Myanmar

Monday, 09 April 2018

For the first time, scientists have been able to infer the origin of incursions of the TR4 fungus that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish bananas, as well as many other types. In a paper published in Frontiers in Plant Science, the scientists not only confirmed the presence of TR4 in Myanmar, they also uncovered molecular evidence that this particular strain, as well as the ones present in Laos and Vietnam, were likely introduced from China. Their analyses also revealed that the TR4 strains in the Philippines and Pakistan are closely related, and that the TR4 incursions in Lebanon and Jordan are associated.

The authors of the paper underscore the need for awareness campaigns and the implementation of validated quarantine measures to prevent further dissemination of TR4.

Third case of TR4 in Queensland, Australia

Thursday, 08 February 2018

The report of a suspected case of TR4 in Queensland, Australia, has been confirmed by Biosecurity Queensland. This is the third such case since the first report of TR4 in Queensland in early 2015. The property on which the fungus was first discovered has since been bought out by the industry and shut down. The second incursion of the disease was found in July 2017 on a property owned by one of the largest growers in the country.

The Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries attributed minimal farm downtime on the third infested property to a prompt response by Biosecurity Queensland officers and the farm already having an established on-farm biosecurity plan.

In Queensland, infested farms must abide by biosecurity protocols to continue trading, which explains why the rate of spread has been extremely slow compared to worlwide experience.

Infected nursery plants suspected in TR4 outbreak

Thursday, 23 November 2017

According to scientists who visited Laos last October, TR4 may have been introduced in the country through infected nursery plants. As reported in The Laotian Times, the scientists spent 3 days surveying plantations of Cavendish plantations along the Vientiane-Vang Vieng road axis. A 45-hectare field established in 2014 for export to China had lost half of its production area due to a severe outbreak of TR4. Chinese managers told the scientists that the disease had appeared soon after planting tissue-culture plants imported from China, where TR4 is present. The scientists suspect that the initial outbreak was due to infected nursery plants imported from China. The presence of TR4 in Laos also threatens the susceptible varieties grown by smallholder farmers and sold in local markets.

Evaluation of TR4-resistant genetically modified Cavendish banana plants

Monday, 20 November 2017

Nature Communications published the results of a field trial of Cavendish banana plants engineered to be resistant to TR4, the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish cultivars. The trial site was a commercial banana plantation in the Northern Territory of Australia where TR4 has become endemic.

Two of the evaluated lines were still free of the disease after three years. One had received a resistance gene isolated from a wild relative of the banana, whereas the other had received an anti-apoptosis gene derived from a nematode.

By contrast, 67%-100% of the control banana plants were either dead or infected by the fungus after three years, including  GCTCV-218. According to the authors, the tissue-culture variant was as susceptible as the Cavendish cultivar Williams.

QUT's press release

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First reports of TR4 in Laos and Vietnam

Thursday, 02 November 2017

Tropical race 4 (TR4) has been reported in Laos and Vietnam, where symptoms typical of Fusarium wilt have been observed as early as 2014.

Laos and Vietnam are two of the countries in the region that have seen a surge in Cavendish plantations set up by Chinese investors to meet the demand for bananas in China, where TR4 is present in all banana-producing regions. The other countries are Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand.

Related stories

Second TR4 incursion in Australia's Tully Valley

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A vegetative compatibility test confirmed the presence of TR4 on a banana farm in Australia's Tully Valley, the second such confirmation since March 2015. Earlier this month, Biosecurity Queensland had acted swiftly by issuing a biosecurity notice while waiting for confirmation. It was later revealed that the samples came from Australia's largest banana grower, who has indicated that production will continue despite the added costs on operation. The farm's spokesperson is confident that the incursion can be contained.

Addendum: A new case was confirmed on the same farm in July 2018.

Virus-resistant GM banana being trialled in Malawi

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Cornell Alliance for Science announced that a banana genetically modified to be resitant to the Banana bunchy top virus is in its first year of confined field trials in Malawi. The banana was developed by Queensland University of Technology in Australia.

TR4-resistant GM bananas to be trialled in Australia

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

ABC Rural announced that Australia's gene technology regulator approved a field trial of genetically modified Grande Naine bananas (a Cavendish cultivar). They were modified to be resistant to the TR4 strain of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, the causal agent of Fusarium wilt, better known as Panama disease.  Four of the lines that were part of a trial that was interrupted when the plants were removed under the Banana Freckle Eradication program will be screened along with new lines.

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Biodegradable bunch covers

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Chemistry students at the University of Costa Rica developed biodegradable bunch covers, for which they won a prize at the Feria de Emprendimiento Desarrollo e Innovación. The main components are plant cellulose, cassava starch and chitin extracted from shrimp shells. The covers are five times more resistant than the conventional ones and are equipped with a system to gradually release pesticides. They take 18 months to disintegrate.

Field trial of Golden Bananas

Monday, 02 January 2017

Genetically modified Dwarf Cavendish plants representing various combinations of transgenes and promoters were field trialed in Australia with the view of transferring the technology to East African highland banana cultivars in Uganda. While none of the lines in the plant crop met the target of 50% of the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for vitamin A in vulnerable populations, 11 lines exceeded the target in the ratoon crop. According to the authors, the results "demonstrate that, rather than there being a reduction of expression with successive vegetative generations as a result of transgene silencing, the trait was stable".

The results were published in Plant Biotechnology Journal.

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Is a postharvest disease of banana caused by Fusarium musae a public health concern?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Fusarium musea, a fungus associated with crown rot, a postharvest disease of bananas, has also been implicated in human infections in non-banana producing countries. PLOS pathogens published a Pearl (an article meant for a broader audience than its peer-reviewed papers) which reviews the current state of knowledge and proposes future avenues of research.

Unprecedented banana farm buy-out

Monday, 24 October 2016

In an unprecedented move, the 166-hectare banana farm on which the TR4 fungal strain was detected in March 2015, will be shut down to protect Australia's banana industry now that the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) and the owners of the farm have signed off on the buy-out.

In August 2016, the ABGC, which represents the interests of the country’s commercial banana growers, had received the green light from its members to increase the Plant Health Australia levy from 0.0103 cents per kilogram to 0.5 cents per kilogram to raise 3m AUD that, added to the 1.5m AUD grant from the Federal Government, would be used to buy the farm. But the purchase was put on hold while sick plants in another property were tested for TR4.

On October 21st, the ABGC announced that it would proceed with the buy-out after Biosecurity Queensland revealed that the samples had conclusively tested negative for TR4. Their objective is to destroy all the banana plants, upgrade the fences and establish a ground cover before the wet season, to prevent the spread of the spores by surface run-off.

The farm is located in the northern part of Queensland, where 95% of the country's bananas are grown.

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Rainforest Alliance and the Discount Supermarkets: Low Prices and Easy Standards?

Thursday, 29 September 2016

According to Banana Link, the rapid expansion of the Rainforest Alliance certification "has invited a growing suspicion that much of its success can be attributed to the laxity of the certification criteria and the undemanding nature of the certification process. This includes criteria that are difficult to test or are fulfilled easily because they are very much open to interpretation, while the auditing of certified farms is open to compromise, when all the parties involved have a financial or other interest in creating a good impression".

Banana Link looked at the NGO's standards, verification systems and RA-certified banana, pineapple and tea plantations. The results are published in Rainforest Alliance and the Discount Supermarkets: Low Prices and Easy Standards?. Banana Link concludes that the "RA certification cannot guarantee sustainability at the same low prices which consumers have come to expect from the discount supermarkets". 

Genome sequencing of Mycosphaerella fungi

Monday, 22 August 2016

Two papers published in PLOS Genetics explore the genome of three fungi that attack the leaves of bananas ― including the causal agent of black leaf streak, better known as black Sigatoka. Understanding their evolution and how they interact with the banana plant could lead to the development  of tools to control these diseases.

Ecuador’s banana sector under climate change

Monday, 27 June 2016

The FAO published the results of an assessment of the impacts of climate change on the banana value chain in Ecuador. The biophysical analysis evaluated banana suitability under climate change scenarios; the impact of climate change on yields and disease incidence; and the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions of banana production. The socio-economic analysis examined the national social policies to ensure a fairer distribution of returns to stakeholders across the banana value chain, especially with regard to smallholder farmers and banana plantation workers.

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The potential of banana crop residues as a source of bioenergy

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A report from the Polytechnic University of Madrid claims that using crop residues generated by banana production for bioenergy applications could cover 55% of the electricity demand in Ecuador's province of El Oro. The GIS study estimates that 190,102 tons of crop residues from a potentially exploitable area of 38,604 hectares would produce 19m liters of bioethanol.

Fairtrade certification in the banana hired labour sector

Monday, 23 May 2016

Scientists at the Wageningen University's LEI research institute recently published the results of a study on the impact of Fairtrade certification on the lives of plantation workers. One of the authors, Fedes van Rijn, told OneWorld Research that as far as wages are concerned, they did not find a difference between certified and non-certified plantations. But they did see differences in terms of in-kind benefits, such as access to housing and clean water. Workers at Fairtrade plantations were also better informed about their rights and generally more satisfied with their standard of living. The scientists also released a summary of the study and Fairtrade's response.