Grist's food writer Nathanael Johnson weighs in on the carotene-fortified GM banana scheduled to undergo a feeding trial at the Iowa State University in the US. The project is a collaboration between Australian and Ugandan scientists. Their aim is to introduce to Ugandan subsistence banana farmers a genetically modified cooking banana with higher levels of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, than the cultivars that are an important part of their diet. Johnson asked experts questions ranging from Aren’t there simpler ways to address vitamin A deficiency? to Why are Americans so interested?.
The Malawi National Biosafety Regulatory Committee recently approved confined field trials of transgenic bananas, according to Crop Biotech Update. The confined field trials will be conducted at the Bvumbwe Research Station of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security for three years, from 2016 to 2018. The transgenic banana planting materials will be introduced from Australia, and evaluated for resistance against the Banana bunchy top virus. Because of losses caused by bunchy top, Malawi has been importing bananas from Mozambique and Tanzania to meet the country's demand.
One year on since the detection of TR4 in a Queensland farm, there is a sense of achievement that the disease has been contained to that one farm, but also high expectations that scientists will find a way forward to farming with TR4. ABC Rural discusses with nematologist Tony Pattison some of the projects scientists are working on.
The one-year anniversary comes on the heels of the fourth detection of TR4 on the 166-hectare Queensland farm, which remains under quarantine. The detection involved a single plant which has been destroyed and will be followed by the destruction of surrounding plants.
With average temperatures in Uganda expected to increase by 2 degrees Celsius in the coming decades, coffee, the country’s most important cash crop, is expected to suffer. According to a piece by IPS News Agency, areas below 1,300 meters will likely become unsuitable for Arabica coffee production, whereas those between 1,300-1,700 meters will be compromised for coffee unless production systems are adapted. Based on work done by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and partner organizations, intercropping coffee with banana is one such alternative as shade from the taller banana plants can reduce temperatures for the coffee plants by 2 degrees Celsius or more. One of the disadvantages of coffee and banana intercropping is that it increases competition for water, nutrients and light, but these effects can be minimised by applying agronomic practices such as pruning and fertilization.
The Trade for Development Centre (a Belgian Development Agency programme) reports the main findings of an investigation into how banana value chains in Europe operate. Published by BASIC (the Bureau for Appraisal of Social Impacts for Citizen information) “Banana value chains in Europe and the consequences of Unfair Trading Practices” estimates that the 25% decline in wholesale prices since 2001 has translated into a loss of revenue in the countries supplying the EU at a time when both production and living costs have been going up. Meanwhile, retailers increased their share of the banana value to around 40%.
The report is based on research commissioned by Banana Link and Fair Trade Advocacy Office as part of the Make Fruit Fair consortium.
Even though tropical race 4 (TR4) has been detected in only one farm in Australia's north Queensland, it is also affecting the other banana growers. Besides changing the way they grow bananas, it has also had social and psychological impacts. Last August, ABC Rural talked to a Tully Valley farmer who explained how it had changed the way neighbours socialize with each other. More recently, CSIRO researcher Matt Curnock told ABC Rural that a survey of 600 banana farmers and other people affected by the situation revealed high levels of stress among a quarter of the respondents. The results of the survey, which also showed low levels of awareness in some parts of the community, will be used to write a public report on community well-being issues and plan future interventions.
Dipping bananas that are 75% green in a solution of lysophosphatidylethanolamine (LPE - a natural fatty acid) for 30 minutes increased the bananas' shelf life by 1 to 2 days, writes Science World Report. According to the press release, LPE improves the shelf life by maintaining membrane integrity, reducing respiration, and slowing the breakdown of starch and cell walls during the ripening and senescence of the fruit tissue. The study was published in HortScience.
The eradication plan was formarlized in 2014 when an Emergency Plant Pest Response Deed was activated. A deed is a legally binding agreement between various levels of government and the national plant industry body that covers the management and funding of responses to a plant pest incursion. As part of the deed arrangements, every commercial grower producing bananas across Australia's banana growing regions is now paying a compulsory production levy of $0.75 per kilogram of bananas marketed.
An increase in annual temperatures could make conditions more favourable for banana production in the subtropics and tropical highlands over the next 60 years, according to the authors of An assessment of global banana production and suitability under climate change scenarios, one of the chapters in the recently released FAO book on Climate Change and Food Systems. It could also lead to a loss in the current distribution of suitable areas (see map) where seasonal temperatures are expected to exceed 30 ºC. The models are based on Cavendish bananas, the type of banana that dominates the export trade.
Prior to its publication, the chapter had been shared with the International Business Times, which reported on how climate change is already affecting banana production in Central America.
Biosecurity Queensland has lifted the five-week quarantine on the Mareeba farm after it was shown that the initial positive result, based on a PCR test published in 2010, had proven to be a 'false positive'. The vegetative compatibility group (VCG) of the isolate turned out negative for tropical race 4 (TR4).
Banana growers were urged to remain vigilant. They were reminded that there is still one case of TR4 on a Tully Valley farm — BQ says that the 12 visual, molecular and biological diagnostic tests conducted on the Tully property have all been positive — and that they need to continue with their on-farm security measures. Harvesting under strict interim arrangements had resumed earlier on the Mareeba and Tully properties after the two plantation owners met an extensive list of conditions. According to the North Queensland Register, "the Queensland Government has made a commitment to reimburse the net revenue forgone for the period in which each of the quarantined properties was unable to trade”.
Biosecurity Queensland quarantined a second commercial banana farm after one of the plants tested positive for tropical race 4. Chief Biosecurity Officer Jim Thompson told Australia's ABC Rural that the entire farm will be surveyed and any infected plants will be destroyed. The farm is located near Mareeba,180 km from the first infected property in the Tully valley. BQ will investigate whether there are any links between the two affected properties.
A team of scientists led by Wageningen University & Research Centre scientist Gert Kema confirmed the presence of tropical race 4 — the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish bananas — in Pakistan and Lebanon. In an interview to Fresh Fruit Portal, Kema said that the infested area is more than 100 hectares in Pakistan, compared to a few hectares in Lebanon.
The first disease report is published in Plant Disease.
International Business Times reports on a chapter in a forthcoming FAO book that offers a comprehensive study on how rising temperatures, drought, declining rainfall and other effects could hurt some of the zones where bananas are grown.
The authors looked at 24 banana-growing areas in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Some of their simulations bode well for bananas. For example, most regions are predicted to have highly favourable growing conditions in the second half of the century. In some places, warmer temperatures might make new areas suitable for growing bananas.
Some tropical areas, however, are likely to see monthly rainfall decline by 2050. Moreover, if global warming surpasses 3 degrees Celsius, as it’s projected to do by 2100, more tropical areas may be lost for banana production due to excessively high temperatures.
International Business Times also reports on how climate change is already affecting banana production in Central America.
The Philippines' Department of Agriculture issued a press release on the export of GCTCV-219 bananas to Japan by farmers whose farm had been decimated by tropical race 4 (TR4), the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish bananas. The cultivar is a selection of GCTCV-119 which the Taiwan Banana Research Institute (TBRI) had shared with the Philippines in 2002. TBRI had developed GCTCV-119 by planting on a large scale tissue-culture plantlets of the local Giant Cavendish cultivar in TR4-infested fields and selecting the most promising surviving plants, hence the name GCTCV for Giant Cavendish tissue-culture variant. GCTCV-219 was similarly obtained through recurrent selection of GCTCV-119 plants in Davao's TR4-infested fields.
After field trials showed that only a small percentage of GCTCV-219 plants developed Fusarium wilt, the cultivar was introduced to 20 banana growers as part of a Bioversity International-led project supported by the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Agricultural Research. The harvest and ripening protocols were also optimized to help the cultivar gain acceptance in the Japanese market.
The Department of Agriculture also announced that plantlets of GCTCV-219 have been multiplied by the Bureau of Plant Industry research centre in Davao and are ready for distribution to the region's smallholder farmers.
ABC News Online announced that Biosecurity Queensland quarantined a plantation near Tully, south of Cairns, following an initial positive test result for tropical race 4 (TR4), the fungal strain that causes Fusarium wilt in Cavendish bananas. Further testing is being done at the farm to confirm the presence of the soil-borne fungus. Australian Banana Growers' Council chief executive Jim Pekin said strict quarantine regulations were in place to prevent the spread of this disease and protect the state's $600 million industry.
Scientists from the National Botanical Research Institute in India sequenced the transcriptomes of unripe and ripe bananas. Many of the differentially regulated genes were found to be involved in cell wall degradation and synthesis of aromatic volatiles, while a large number might be novel genes. According to the authors, the datasets from this study may help develop strategies to manipulate banana fruit ripening and reduce post harvest losses.
After Chiquita shareholders voted to reject a proposed $1.07 billion merger with Irish food company Fyffes, they agreed last October to be acquired by the Brazilian orange-juice maker Cutrale Group and its investment-firm partner Safra Group for $742 million. The Brazilian companies completed their acquisition of Chiquita Brands International on January 6, taking the banana producer private. They haven’t said where Chiquita will be headquartered.
The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research blog reports on a project encouraging Philippino farmers to grow groundcovers between banana plants to reduce the risk of spreading the tropical race 4 (TR4) fungus that causes Fusarium wilt on Cavendish bananas. Groundcovers also provide a favourable environment for a range of antagonists to TR4 to develop naturally, in addition to reducing soil erosion and surface water flow that can carry the fungus from plot to plot.
Scientists are taking advantage of field trials in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s South Kivu province to gain insights into the factors that influence the adoption of the single disease stem removal (SDSR) technique developed to manage Xanthomonas wilt, a potentially devastating bacterial disease of bananas better known as BXW. The project will be comparing the effectiveness of three interventions meant to encourage collective action: creation of self-help groups, coordination of influential local actors (such as clergy, chiefs and NGOs), and collaboration with established farmer organizations.
Based on feedback from the self-help groups, the scientists already identified obstacles to the adoption of the SDSR technique, such as off-farm work, looking after sick family members and trying to avoid damaging intercrops. The information will be used to develop recommendations that are adapted to different livelihood strategies.
Frits Popma, the managing director of Popma Fruit Expertise, told FreshPlaza that he greatest threat to the major banana brands are supermarket chains that are increasingly setting up their own import line and worries about the implications for research. “The A-brands”, he says, “invest heavily in developments, but also in battling panama disease and other threatening viruses. These studies cost millions, not something a small grower is likely to engage in.” He also notes that enticing growers to sell cheap in order to secure sales, sometimes results in shortages as growers cannot always guarantee supplies.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines the competition among banana exporters to bind by contract as many growers/suppliers as possible has encouraged the practice of ‘pole-vaulting’, the furtive trading of bananas outside of the usual grower-exporter contracts, writes Glenn C. Aquino in BusinessWorld online.