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Banana Fusarium wilt in Africa

In recent years, plant diseases have caused havoc to banana production across Africa. These include diseases such as banana Xanthomonas wilt and Banana Bunchy Top disease.  The newest threat to banana cultivation on the continent is posed by the discovery of a foreign Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (Foc) strain, called tropical race 4 (TR4), on a farm in northern Mozambique. Foc TR4 was previously restricted to Asia where it caused considerable damage to Cavendish clones and some locally grown varieties. Immediate measures to contain and destroy diseased plants, as well as to prevent the spread of Foc TR4 within and off the terrain, have been put in place at the infected farm. However, an urgent and concerted action is required across the country, region and continent to prevent this and other incursions from developing into another disease epidemic of banana in Africa.

Banana Fusarium wilt is not new to the African continent.  Foc race 1 has first been reported from West Africa in 1924.  A second introduction occurred in 1951 when Foc race 1 entered Tanzania.  This strain is now widely spread in most banana-producing countries in Africa.  The majority of bananas grown on the continent, such as East African Highland Banana (EAHB), plantains and Cavendish bananas, however, are resistant /immune to Foc races 1 and 2.

Cavendish, other dessert bananas and some cooking bananas are susceptible to Foc race 4.  To control the current disease outbreak on banana in Mozambique, and to prepare other countries reliant on banana for food security and income generation, a series of informed interventions have been developed by a consortium of African and international researchers and institutions. These include:

  • Containment of the outbreak in Mozambique to prevent spread on-farm, within the country and to neighbouring countries

  • Preparation of other countries dependent on banana against future incursions by Foc TR4 through enhanced bio-security frameworks, targeted awareness campaigns and training

  • Management of banana Fusarium wilt in Africa by employment of resistant varieties and integrated disease management

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Lizeth Swart