Colombian authorities have finally confirmed that two banana farms are under quarantine due to concerns they are infected with the devastating disease Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race IV (TR4), while nearby banana-growing countries are in a high state of alert.
There had been strong indications over the last few weeks that quarantine was in effect, but no official word from phytosanitary watchdog the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) until this past weekend.
On Saturday ICA said that the national contingency plan had been activated on June 17, after a grower detected symptoms associated with the disease at the start of the month.
The contingency plan involves a quarantine in four farm blocks covering 150 hectares in the department of La Guajira, in the northeast of the country near the border with Venezuela. It also includes reinforcing four existing control points and implementing two new ones to control movement, verifying the fulfillment of biosecurity protocols on the farms and tightening biosecurity control measures on the country's borders, and at ports and airports.
The two infected farms are Eva Norte and Don Marce, the latter of which supplies organic bananas to Dole.
ICA says that it is working with the Minister of Agriculture and banana organizations Augura, Asbama and Cenibanano, to coordinate control efforts.
It added that it is applying internationally established protocols for the diagnostic, contingency and prevention measures with the private sector.
Plant material has been sent to the Netherlands for laboratory testing to confirm whether or not TR4 is present, with the results expected in August.
If confirmed, the entrance of TR4 into Latin America would be a huge blow for the continent, which supplies the majority of bananas to world markets. In Colombia, bananas are the third most important horticultural export - after coffee and flowers - produced on around 50,000 hectares.
Neighboring Ecuador, which is the world's largest banana exporter, has already implemented its contingency plan and has significantly boosted biocontrol security at points of entry into the country.
The country has already launched an information campaign and mobilized teams to monitor farms for signs of the disease.
The International Organisation for Regional Plant and Animal Health (Oirsa), whose membership includes Belize, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama, immediately urged members to strengthen controls at borders, ports and airports.