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First ISHS/ProMusa symposium, South Africa

Inge Van den Bergh Friday, 01 October 2010

The first symposium organized under the new alliance between ISHS and ProMusa was held in South Africa in September 2007. Participants from 25 countries came together in White River, South Africa, to discuss the status of banana diseases and pests and progress made in their control, and to identify research priorities for the coming years. The meeting, titled  Recent advances in banana crop protection for sustainable production and improved livelihoods, included a 3-day symposium, followed by a field visit to banana farms and a 1-day workshop. In total, 46 oral papers and more than 40 posters were presented.

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An overview of the global situation showed that the same diseases and pests that threatened banana production when ProMusa was established 10 years ago still constitute a major constraint to bananas worldwide. These include the Mycosphaerella leaf spot diseases, Fusarium wilt, bacterial diseases, viral diseases, nematodes and weevils, and pre- and post-harvest diseases. The cultivation of bananas on a large scale and the intensive use of pesticides in commercial plantations have continued to favour ever more devastating pests and diseases. Xanthomonas wilt, a highly virulent strain of Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense – the so-called Tropical Race 4 – and  Banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) have achieved new significance and the banana streak virus complex has increasingly interfered with the distribution of germplasm.

The lack of resistant banana varieties and alternative control strategies leaves the systematic use of chemicals as the only option in intensive cropping systems. The excessive use of chemicals for systematic control is harmful to the environment and humans. Various alternative approaches have been tried with differing levels of success. Conventional breeding has proven to be difficult and expensive, and newly developed hybrids are not easily adopted by farmers. Genetic engineering has problems with trials and public acceptance.

However, several presentations during the symposium showed that organic and integrated approaches, combining biological and cultural methods and making use of natural predators and competitors, are promising. Somaclonal variants have been successfully exploited in Taiwan where they are now combined with annual planting practices. New hybrids are being tested in the field for their agronomic performance and host resistance, while also taking into account their acceptability by growers and consumers. With strong commitment from governments and strict quarantine regulations, some diseases have been successfully eradicated in some countries, as it is the case with BBTV in Australia. The use of clean tissue-cultured planting material has helped the Philippine growers to manage BBTV in their farms. Xanthomonas wilt of banana is being controlled with some success through simple farm practices, although more still has to be done to achieve widespread adoption of the practices. The recent sequencing of the genome of Mycosphaerella fijiensis should facilitate the development of pesticide reduction plans.

The symposium was organized jointly by the International Society for Horticultural sciences, ProMusa, Bioversity International (France/Italy), the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute (South Africa) and Du Roi Laboratories (South Africa).

The proceedings have been published in Acta Horticulturae

Access the abstract booklet (PDF).

For more details, contact Inge Van den Bergh or Karen Lehrer.