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.
IITA announced the start of a 5-year US$13.8 million project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aimed at scaling up and speeding up efforts to develop and deliver to farmers higher yielding cooking banana hybrids with resistance to black leaf streak, Fusarium wilt, weevils and nematodes. The project will build on a previous collaborative effort by setting up on-farm trials in Tanzania and Uganda to further evaluate the NARITA varieties developed by IITA and NARO. The preliminary results of an on-station trial carried out in Central Uganda suggest that these hybrids have the potential to increase banana production.
The project will also expand existing breeding activities by developing methods to improve the production of hybrid seeds and identifying molecular markers for the selection of priority traits. This will be complemented by improved characterization of the spread and virulence of pests and diseases at farmers’ testing sites and the development and application of faster bioassay screens. The project will be coordinated by IITA and co-executed by 12 partners. It will also receive substantial co-financing from IITA, Bioversity International, and the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas.
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.