Agriculture experts urge; ‘We have to work all together to prevent the entry of Fusarium Wilt fungus into America’

The Tropical Race 4 (TR4) of the Fusarium Wilt fungus has been severely affecting Southeast Asia’s banana and plantain crops. However, with the recent emergence of reports of this particular disease outside of Asia, the Caribbean banana industry is now at a severely high risk. As such, the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), together with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have been implementing strategies in the prevention of this disease by increased awareness. And so, it was with this objective in mind that a ‘Sensitization Seminar on the threat of Tropical 4 Race by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense- Fusarium Wilt (Panama Disease) of Bananas and Plantains’ was held on Wednesday 30 April, 2014 at the Auditorium at the Frank Stockdale Building UWI Campus, St. Augustine, Trinidad.

Speakers at Tropical Race 4 (TR4) symposium

Speakers at Tropical Race 4 (TR4) symposium

The main speaker and lead consultant, Dr. Luiz Perez-Vincente PhD provided an overview of the Fusarium Wilt disease, showing how the disease affects not just banana and plantain plantations but also the economy and food sustainability. He also reinforced the importance of increased awareness saying that “This could be a very serious problem. Our main task is prevention … we all have to work together to prevent the outbreak of Fusarium.” Dr. Luiz- Vincente’s presentation highlighted the main constraints of production systems, and symptoms of the Fusarium wilt disease, which includes: yellow leaf syndrome and the non-yellow leaf syndrome and the distinctive symptoms between bacterial wilt (Moko) and Fusarium.

Dr. Luiz-Vicente also highlighted management practices that could lead to solutions, such as:

  • Quarantine procedures
  • Introduction and adoption of high density annual cropping systems
  • Healthy planting material use
  • Chemical control
  • Bio control
  • Long rotations with non-host plants

He ended by stating while the TR4 Fusarium wilt disease is not yet present in the Caribbean, there is a need for cooperation in order to prevent the outbreak of the disease. Reiterating the importance of awareness saying, “We have to work all together to prevent the entry into America”.

Mr. Barton Clarke, Trinidad and Tobago Representative of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) stressed the importance of increased awareness of the Fusarium Wilt disease. He believes that the responsibility for the prevention of the disease does not rest solely on members of the agricultural sector, stating, “This is not the business of those in agriculture. This is everybody’s business.” He further stated that this disease can impact the entire population and so urged everyone to, “put every possible asset in place to avert this problem”, stressing the importance of such strategic partnerships, saying, “We have a collective responsibility to assist in managing the disease.”

Participants of the Sensitization Seminar in Trinidad

Participants of the Sensitization Seminar in Trinidad

Professor Neela Badrie of the University of the West Indies affirmed that most people enjoyed eating bananas and plantains and so the TR4 Fusarium wilt disease affects everyone. She stated that few plant diseases are as vast as the TR4 disease and so there is a need to implement preventative measures. Dr. Marcia Blair-Thomas, Head of CARDI’s Trinidad Unit stated that, “Banana and plantain continues to be important to the economy of the Caribbean as well as for food production” and thus identified the TR4 disease as being very critical.

The Seminar and upcoming 5-Day Regional Workshop are being hosted with the objective to arm persons with the required knowledge and training in dealing with this disease and increase public awareness.

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