In an interview with the Roots, Tubers and Bananas CGIAR Research Program, Altus Viljoen from Stellenbosch University in South Africa discusses what actions have been taken to address the threat of tropical race 4 in Africa. In 2013, the fungal strain was reported to be in northern Mozambique, in a commercial plantation of Cavendish bananas for export. The consortium set up soon after the discovery now has a website: Banana Fusarium wilt in Africa.
Nature Biotechnology published a correspondence on the first field-based evidence for transgenic control of a bacterial disease of banana, Xanthomonas wilt, better known as BXW. Plants of the cultivars ‘Sukali ndiizi’ (AAB genome group) and ‘Nakinyika’ (an East African highland banana) had previously been engineered to produce a hypersensitive response-assisting protein (Hrap) or a plant ferredoxin-like protein (Pflp) using genes from sweet pepper (Capsicum annuum). The best 65 resistant lines (40 lines expressing the Hrap gene and 25 the Pflp one) were evaluated over two successive crop cycles in a confined field trial in Uganda.
About 20% of the Hrap lines and 16% of the Pflp lines, for a total of 11 transgenic lines, showed 100% resistance and retained the resistance in the ratoon crop. By comparison, all 65 lines had showed high resistance in a glasshouse trial. In the field trial, the plants were inoculated just before flowering, whereas in the glasshouse one, the plants had been inoculated at three months. Apart from resistance to the bacterial disease, the flowering and yield (bunch weight and fruit size) characteristics of transgenic lines were similar to those of nontransgenic plants.
The authors were unable to recover any viable bacteria from the asymptomatic transgenic lines, even from the site of inoculation, suggesting that the plants mounted a successful resistance response. They also noted that since elicitor-induced resistance is not pathogen-specific, this transgenic approach could be tried against other bacterial diseases of banana, such as moko and blood disease. Although the article is behind a paywall, supplementary methods, tables and figures are freely available.
Jonathan Benson, a staff writer at Natural News, claims that the provitamin A enriched GM banana undergoing a human feeding trial in the US "has never before been tested on a living organism, let alone a human being”. Seeing how this is the world's first human trial of this type of banana, it should go without saying that it has not been tested on human beings before. As for the assertion that the banana has not been tested on animals, it is contradicted by a previous Natural News piece saying that the banana had indeed been tested on Mongolian gerbils.
Benson also reiterates an unsubstantiated allegation he had made earlier in the year whereby Golden Rice1 “has failed in every trial thus far conducted”, which is also contradicted by the studies mentioned in a response to a similar claim. His earlier piece also has a quote from GeneWatch‘s executive director maintaining “that there is evidence that too much beta-carotene can be cancerous”. According to the American Cancer Society, “provitamin A carotenoids such as beta carotene are generally considered safe because they are not linked to specific bad health effects.” Benson does not raise the issue of toxicity associated with the ingestion of high levels of vitamin A, but other anti-GM activists have2. It is a real concern, except that it is linked to the intake of retinol (in foods of animal origin), not plant carotenoids3.
According to The Hindu, an Indian farmer has developed an original intercropping system. He sows onion around his banana seedlings to save on irrigation costs. The onions, which only require 90 days to harvest, help him meet short-term expenses. He also says that the onions reduces weevil levels.
A consortium of African and international stakeholders released a declaration to address the threat of tropical race 4 (TR4), which was reported in northern Mozambique at the end of 2013. The declaration is one of the outcomes of a workshop organized by the African Consortium for Foc TR4 (AC4TR4) at the end of April in Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Australia's Queensland University of Technology (QUT) announced the start of a human trial of bananas that were genetically engineered to produce higher levels of pro-vitamin A carotenoids usinng a phytoene synthase gene from the Fei banana 'Asupina'. About 10 kg of bananas have been sent to the United States to measure their impact on vitamin A levels in humans. A Ugandan researcher speaking to ABC news predicted a huge impact given the importance of bananas in the diet. The bananas also have increased levels of iron. For more information on QUT's work on GM bananas, see Rob Harding's power point presentation.
According to Baking Europe, between 4 to 5 metric tonnes of the bananas produced for the export trade are discarded every year because they don't meet the industry's exacting standards. Some are sold on local markets, but few attempts have been made to use these rejected bananas in industrial food processing. Starting on page 12 of the June 2014 issue, CIRAD scientists suggest innovative uses, such as making gluten-free banana flour.
The first consignment of export bananas in more than two decades has left the port of Mogadishu for the Middle East. Before the collapse of the central government in 1991, Somalia was the largest exporter of bananas in East Africa. Plantations were first established in the Shabelle Valley in 1919, with the technical support of Italians. After the United Nations granted Italy trusteeship of Italian Somalia in 1945, the crop was sold to the Banana Plantation Monopoly for export to Italy.
Banana link calls on European retailers to stop destroying value in the banana chain with their price wars. According to the owner of a ripening company the fierce competition is affecting everyone. The only winner seems to be consumers, except that most of them don't even notice when the price of bananas goes down, according to a survey commissioned by Fairtrade Foundation.
In the Philippines, the Southern Philippines Agri-Business and Marine and Aquatic School of Technology (SPAMAST), on the southern island of Midanao, announced that it will set up a 5-ha banana farm to demonstrate disease management and cultural practices to smallholder farmers. According to the president of SPAMAST, the farm will also produce local cultivars such as Saba, Lakatan and Latundan with the view of increasing their share of the domestic and international markets, both of which are dominated by Cavendish cultivars.
The FAO released an information note revealing the changing nature of the global banana trade. An analysis of information gathered from the annual reports of the largest multinational banana trading companies shows that the combined market share of the top three companies (Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte) declined from a high of 65.3% in the 1980s to 36.6% in 2013. The accompanying news release also notes that the scope of operations of the big multinationals has undergone a significant shift, away from plantation ownership and production towards purchasing from producers, transportation, ripening facilities and marketing. In an audio interview, Ekaterina Krivonos, an economist in the Trade and Markets Division, explains the challenge the increasingly fragmented market presents to smallholder banana producers. FreshFruitPortal also did a news: Multinationals lose grip on global banana exports.
FreshPlaza reports on The Future of Authentic Fairtrade Bananas conference organized by Equal Exchange, a fairtrade food importer based in Massachusetts, USA.
Yemen's Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and the country's banana farmers disagree on how to reduce the amount of water used in the production of bananas, while a Sana'a university professor suggests that the best solution would be to import the water-loving fruit. Read the whole story in the Yemen Times.
Al Jazeera - America takes advantage of a news on the upcoming merger between US-based Chiquita Brands International and Ireland-based Fyffes to take a stab at the banana industry's business model.
Scientists studying the mechanisms of resistance to the burrowing nematode Radopholus similis have zeroed in on the phenylphenalenone anigorufone. They arrived at the conclusion by looking at two cultivars differing in their reaction to the nematode: the susceptible Grande Naine and the resistant Yangambi km5. The scientific paper was published in PNAS.
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.