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.
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.