Insects and Fungus Threaten Banana Population

Banana Disease

Costa Rica has declared a state of ‘national emergency’ in fear that one in five bananas could have been ruined by insects and spreading fungus this year. The country last year supplied 1.2 million tons of the fruit worldwide.

According to a recent Scientific American report, Magda Gonzalex, Costa Rica’s director of the agriculture ministry’s State Phytosanitary Services (SFE), which oversees the Central American banana crop eaten around the world, is declaring a national emergency after 20 percent of it was devastated by two separate outbreaks of mealy bugs and scale insects at banana plantations in Mozambique and Jordan.

“Climate change, by affecting temperature, favors the conditions under which (the insects) reproduce,” Gonzalez said, via the organization. “I can tell you with near certainty that climate change is behind these pests.”

SFE has estimated that the insects infected around 24,000 hectares of banana fields in the Central American country.

Insects aren’t the only thing destroying bananas. Scientific American published a report with warnings that a banana-eating fungus, originating in Asia in the 1990s, is threatening other plantations across the globe.

The disease, believed to have been caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense (Foc), is thought to have spread after being located in Jordan and Mozambique. Yet, nobody is sure how the fungus arrived in Jordan or Mozambique.

Gert Kema, a Fusarium researcher at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands and co-author of the Jordan report, believes that further spread is inevitable. “I’m incredibly concerned,” he says. “I will not be surprised if it pops up in Latin America in the near future.”

The pathogen, Foc-TR4, can affect the Cavendish cultivar bananas, which account for almost all bananas in the trade. Scientists are worried because previously, a strain of Foc wiped out the Gros Michel cultivar, which was the most popular banana export type between the 1800s and the 1950s.

“It’s a gigantic problem,” Rony Swennen of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, and a banana breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Dar es Salaam, told Nature.

Scientists are working on varieties that will be resistant to the strain, although progress has been limited, Nature notes.┬áThe resulting transgenic specimens have been in field trials for 18 months on contaminated ground in Australia, and are looking “very promising”, says James Dale, director of the Centre for Tropical Crops and Biocommodities at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia.

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