Vila Times

New banana fungal disease threatens the Pacific region

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Apart from the threat posed by rhinoceros beetle to the coconut industry in the Pacific, the region has been warned of a possible new threat to the banana industry from a fungal disease that’s beginning to wipe out crops in large parts of South East Asia and Australia.

International media reports say scientists in developing countries are scrambling to find a cure for a devastating fungus that threatens to wipe out the global banana trade and plunge millions of farmers into poverty, reports PacNews .

The concern was raised at the recent Pacific Community’s Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services (HOAFS) meeting in Port Vila last month.

Tonga was concerned that if the disease was already devastating the banana industry in Australia, there are possible chances that it can be brought to the Pacific and wipe out the crop, affecting the export market.

The devastating Panama disease tropical race IV was detected for the first time in Queensland in 2015, causing concern in the banana industry.

Pacific countries are asking the Pacific Community (SPC) for assistance in protecting the banana industry from this global disease outbreak.

The curator of the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT), Logotonu Meleisea Waqainabete said a possible response to deal with the banana disease outbreak in the Pacific is through genetic resource sharing co-operation with similar gene banks in Asia that have developed resistant banana varieties.

“The Taiwan Banana Research institute has been doing a 20 year old banana breeding programme to develop a variety that is resistant to the disease.

“Their research method is different from what we do here at the centre. They use chemicals that we use in tissue culture to mutate the DNA of the plant. Out of the millions of plants they breed, only two or three plants will resist the disease and all the other ones can die. So the two or three resistant plants will become the focus of the breeding, said Waqainabete.