Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Research urged to combat Philippine banana disease


[MANILA] Scientists in the Philippines are urging their government to set up a national research centre to develop varieties of banana resistant to a disease now threatening plantations across South-East Asia.

The move follows appeals from growers who are facing the uncontrollable spread of Panama disease, caused by a destructive fungus that has wiped out banana varieties in the past.

The disease, also known as fusarium wilt, has been dormant for about 50 years, but a virulent strain has now reappeared in plantations in the Philippines, having spread from Australia to countries in Southeast Asia and Taiwan.

In the Philippines, the 'tropical race 4' strain has already wiped out 1,200 hectares of banana plantations, particularly the Cavendish variety, according to Stephen Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA).

Cavendish is the most popular commercial variety for export worldwide. It replaced Gros Michel, which had dominated the international banana market for more than a century until that too was wiped out by Panama disease by the 1960s.

Antig told SciDev.Net that the disease has also spread to other banana varieties, threatening the livelihoods of thousands of farmers in the country. "Most of those affected are small growers who cannot afford or do not know what measures to take," he added.

He stressed that the private sector needs help in fighting the disease. Together with several scientists, PBGEA is pushing for government legislation to establish the National Research, Development and Extension Center for Banana, which its proponents hope will speed up response to disease and pests outbreaks, and develop a Cavendish variety that is resistant to Panama disease.

Agustin Molina, regional coordinator of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain–Asia Pacific Banana Research Network, which operates under Bioversity International, said the disease is a global problem and countries need to invest in research to lessen its impact.

"Our network is partnering with national programmes such as that run by the Taiwan Banana Research Institute and Lapanday Foods Corporation [a major grower of Cavendish in the Philippines], representing the PBGEA," said Molina.

He revealed that results of a field study in Davao City, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, show that two Cavendish varieties are highly resistant to Panama disease.

These varieties, he said, were produced in Taiwan by selecting improved mutants from the Cavendish variety. "What commercial companies should be doing is selecting an improved mutant from these Taiwanese varieties under local conditions," said Molina.

We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.