TR4 infection spreads on Mozambique banana plantation
Despite efforts to contain the disease at Matanuska farm since the outbreak first occurred in 2013, there has been a sharp rise in the infection rate, exacerbated by severe floods which spread the fungus earlier this year.
Mozambique’s Ministry of Agriculture and Food recently introduced quarantine measures to prevent the movement of banana planting materials off the affected farm. The measures also apply to another infected farm, Jacaranda.
Professor Altus Viljoen, of the department of plant pathology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, is one of the main advisors to the Matanuska project and has been working closely with the banana business since the disease first affected plantations in September 2013.
"The disease has become very destructive at Matanuska and the incidence increased significantly in the past year. The flooding spread the fungus widely on the farm, and attempts to contain the disease were destroyed in the process," he tells www.freshfruitportal.com.
"A lot of activities are being executed in an effort to deal with Foc TR4 in northern Mozambique. The FAO [United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization] made emergency funding available, and a project to prevent the spread of the disease, create awareness and build capacity in the region was launched in April this year.
"Disease surveys to determine whether Foc TR4 has spread beyond the borders of the affected farms have started, and Cavendish somaclones resistant to Foc TR4 have been planted for evaluation."
An agreement between Matanuska and Stellenbosch University, along with research partners in Mozambique including International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Bioversity International, has recently been signed to support the company in its battle against TR4.
"There are a number of important aspects to consider when dealing with the Foc TR4 outbreak in northern Mozambique. These include the economic, political and social implications should the two companies decide to close doors, as well as the immense risk of the fungus to food security in Africa.
"The banana companies need to be supported to help them deal with the outbreaks rather than abandoning the land, as the the latter could be catastrophic; resulting in the uncontrolled movement of survivor plants and infested soils into northern Mozambique and further afield.
"Research support to the companies will involve efforts to help them prevent the spread of Foc TR4 in irrigation and flood water, as well as with mud attached to shoes and vehicles from infested fields."
Viljoen adds the soil-borne fungus is almost impossible to eradicate and can survive for decades in banana fields.
Planting disease-resistant varieties could provide small growers in Africa with an opportunity to deal with TR4, should varietal experiments be successful and introduced into plantations.
"Fungicide and other methods of control are neither effective nor practical and affordable. For this reason Matanuska and a team of African researchers have decided to initiative a program to evaluate cooking bananas and Cavendish mutants for resistance to Foc TR4," he says.
"Field testing of bananas is crucial, as greenhouse evaluation proved to be unreliable when a small collection of African bananas were tested for Foc TR4 resistance both in greenhouse and field trials in Asia."