Regional governmental representatives are pushing to strengthen institutional arrangements to deal with the impact of climate change on agriculture, including the production of bananas, an important source of income for many Caribbean farmers. For example, the island of Dominica earns an estimated 55 million dollars annually from the production of approximately 30,000 tonnes of bananas, while the neighbouring islands of St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which together market their fruit under the Windward Islands Banana brand, earn an average of 68 million dollars.
The way bananas for export are grown and marketed is criticised in the British press. The Fairtrade Foundation takes on supermarkets for squeezing smallholder banana farmers out of their livelihoods in a Guardian blog and a video on what low international prices mean to farmers. In We have no bananas today, The Economist points out that while growing bananas for export in monocultures is efficient, it makes the production system vulnerable to pests and diseases.
The Association of Banana Producers of the Canaries, ASPROCAN, is celebrating the incorporation of Plátano de Canarias into the Spanish Association of Appellations of Origin last week. The Canary Islands is the only European banana producer to be awarded the quality seal.
At the end of January, scientists met in Bujumbara, Burundi, to shape out a framework for a participatory approach to recover banana fields affected by bunchy top in nine African countries and to "nip this disease in the bud" as one of the scientists leading the workshop said. The workshop is part of an initiative led by IITA, Bioversity International and CIRAD and funded by the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.
The CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas recently published the report of a workshop on Banana-based beverages in East Africa: diagnosing value chains and associated livelihoods held at the end of 2013.
Florida International University scientists used simulation models to predict how changes in temperature and rainfall might affect the commercial cultivation of bananas in 11 South and Central American countries. According to the press release, the authors found that while weather conditions may become too hot and dry in many existing plantations, chances for raising successful crops could improve in areas of Mexico, Peru and Ecuador. The study is available (behind a paywall) on the website of the journal Ecological Economics.
A news piece published in the journal Nature reveals that the TR4 fungus recently reported to be in a commercial banana plantation of northern Mozambique might have been there for two to three years. The piece downplays the impact of TR4 by noting that the export trade, which is dominated by Cavendish bananas, accounts for only about 13% of global production. What is not said is that twice as many Cavendish bananas are grown for domestic markets, according to the statistics published in the May 2012 issue of FruiTrop.
Wageningen UR Plant Research International is collaborating with the TASTE Foundation and several Latin American universities and agricultural organisations on the biological control of the red rust thrips for organic producers in Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic. The tiny insects leave red spots when they feed on the banana fruit and female flowers. Even though the problem is purely cosmetic, affected bunches cannot be exported since supermarkets won't buy them. The main strategy the scientists are working on involves luring the insects in a pheromone trap, where they will be exposed to a deadly fungus with which they will contaminate their conspecifics.
After discovering banana freckle on two more properties in Australia's Northern Territory, an eradication circle of 1 km around each of the two infected properties was established. All the plants within that circle are cut up and the stumps treated with herbicide. The plant material is then trucked to a dedicated disposal site where it is buried. No banana plant will be planted for 12 months to ensure the pest does not reappear. During that period, all properties within 2 km of the infected properties will be inspected. If banana freckle is not found, the Northern Territory will be declared free of the pest.
Taiwanese researchers developed a biochip than can detect three banana viruses simultaneously: cucumber mosaic virus, banana bunchy top virus and banana bract mosaic virus. The researchers claim that the device is eight times more sensitive than traditional methods. They are also working on adding the banana streak virus to the biochip.
Visitors to the Banana Museum in Sainte-Marie, Martinique, were recently asked to weigh in on an improved hybrid produced by the French Agricultural Research Centre for Development (CIRAD). Called Fhlorban 925, the small banana tastes like a Cavendish, but unlike the latter it is resistant to leaf spot diseases and nematodes, and as such requires less pesticides. Some 900 kg of the new cultivar are currently grown on 2 sites in Martinique and 4 in Guadeloupe, where scientists from the Institut Technique Tropical are studying its agronomic performance. It's also being tested in cold chambers in Rungis, outside Paris. If the various evaluations are conclusive, the objective is to commercialize it by 2015.
A first report of tropical race 4 outside southeast Asia was published in Plant Disease. The diagnostic was performed by scientists from Wageningen UR (University and Research Centre) using samples sent by Jordan's Ministry of Agriculture. It appears that 80% of the banana plantations in the Jordan Valley, which represent a total of only 1,000-1,500 hectares, are now infected.
IITA announced that 26 improved hybrids of East African highland bananas are about to be evaluated for their agronomic performance and disease resistance. Dubbed NARITAS because they are the products of a collaboration between NARO (National Agricultural Research Organization) and IITA (the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture), the hybrids will be tested in various banana-growing areas of East Africa by national programmes in collaboration with Bioversity International.
In a piece on how the UK supermarkets' banana price war is making sustainable production impossible for producers and their workers, Alistair Smith of Banana Link is quoted as saying that "Competition law so far deals only with cartels of suppliers, not with cartels of buyers. But we're in a new world where cartels of buyers can force down prices, whatever the sector".
In The time is ripe, the magazine Spore explores the various marketing strategies used by banana producers in Kenya to develop domestic and regional markets.
Filipino farmers talk about their experience with the tropical race 4 fungal strain that attacks Cavendish bananas in two videos (part 1 and part 2) produced for a group of Wageningen UR researchers working on Fusarium wilt (better known as Panama disease). The series contains other videos on the dreaded disease.