Fungus hits banana farms in Davao City

Subscribe Now September 29, 2011 at 10:41am

Small banana growers in Calinan district, about 30 kilometers northwest of the city proper, abandoned early this week three hectares of plantations after these were hit by one of the most dangerous diseases affecting banana plants. Rene D. Dalayon, chief executive officer of the Federation of Cooperatives in Mindanao, said his group is monitoring closely other farms run by independent growers in the city for Fusarium wilt symptoms so it can immediately institute quarantine measures to contain the infestation.

“We just burned and abandoned [the banana plants]. Even the big banana plantations with 50 years of research behind them leave their fields [when their banana plants are hit with the disease], more so we small growers,” he told BusinessWorld.

Based on the cooperative’s estimates, a grower would lose roughly P500,000 at the very least from just one hectare planted to export quality bananas.

Based on earlier estimates, Davao City has at least 5,000 of the industry’s 60,000 hectares of export banana farms.

Mr. Dalayon said his group is trying to find ways to utilize the land damaged by the disease by urging growers to shift to other crops like cacao or coffee, which seem to be immune to the fungus that attacks the roots which eventually kills the plants.

Last week, the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) sent a team of experts to plantations as part of addressing the problem, including those of independent growers, or those not under the operation of big plantations.

The fungus that hit Cavendish banana farms in the region has no known cure and can quickly wipe out entire fields including backyard farms. While PBGEA created a team billed Fusarium Wilt Focus Group, which seeks to build an integrated disease management program, the result and conclusions from the research “will take some time” to complete.

“At present, there are no hard and fast rules on how to manage Fusarium wilt,” Dr. Emily G. Fabregar, chairperson of PBGEA’s technical committee, said in a statement sent to local media channels.

The committee on agriculture of the Santo Tomas municipal council in Davao del Norte already initiated dialogues after getting wind of the destructive effects of the disease.

More commonly known as the Panama Disease, it is known to render the soil barren for 50 years unless the spores of the fungus that stay on the soil are eradicated.

Davao del Norte farmers have been complaining to the provincial agriculturist office of wilting banana plants since the middle of the year.

PBGEA scientists claimed that placing the infected farm under quarantine is very important as well as cleaning thoroughly the farm equipment and machineries. To date, there’s no estimate how many hectares of farms are affected in the region.

“All banana growers, whether with or without contracts with big companies and cooperatives, must be educated about Panama Disease starting from identification, isolation, quarantine methods and procedures and proper eradication,” Ms. Fabregar said in her press statement.

Data from PBGEA revealed around 240,000 workers are fully dependent on the local banana industry, which contributes an average of $700 million in export receipts annually since 10 years ago. Banana is the second biggest export product of Mindanao, after coconut, and is the fifth largest in the country.


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