Farmers in the Philippines fight to save bananas from deadly fungus

World Today

For several years now, banana growers in the Philippines have been quietly battling a plague. Panama disease, a fungus formally known as Tropical race 4, has killed more than 15,000 hectares’ worth of Cavendish bananas in the Davao region, where most of the country’s export-quality bananas are cultivated.

CGTN’s Barnaby Lo reports from the banana plantations in the Southern Philippines.

“When you are attacked by the Panama, the transfer of the fluid from the trunk to the leaves is closed,” explained Vincente Mitra of the ARR Agri-Business Corporation. “They don’t get the nutrients, the water, and all those things, so they die.”

Infected plants are put in a quarantine. The ARR Agri-Business owns a plantation in the region, and has lost half a hectare to the fungal disease. It’s a relatively small area, but without the proper precautionary measures, it can spread like wildfire.

Security guards at the banana plantation spray the wheels of vehicles with a disinfectant. There’s also disinfectant for shoes. People on the plantation have to go through a sort of a footbath to disinfect their shoes. These procedures have proven effective, but small banana growers cannot afford them. The keys, according to industry leaders, are cooperation and a touch of charity.

“Most of these small farmers their farms are adjacent to the big plantations. If you don’t help them, chances are their problem will become your problem,” said Stephen Antig of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association.

There is not currently a cure for the Panama disease, and it continues to spread in banana plantations across the Philippines. That’s why growers have turned to other Cavendish varieties, the 218 and 219, which appear mostly resistant to Tropical race 4.

“The Cavendish is still the best. The 218 is an insurance that in case the Cavendish will be totally wiped out, then you have the 218 to replace,” Antig said.

This isn’t the first time bananas have faced the threat of extinction, but each crisis has resulted in new varieties that have proven to be resilient.

How exactly does Panama Disease effect banana plantations around the world, and how did we get here?

CGTN’s Isbella Diaz explains what the banana wilt is, and what people are doing to combat it.

Follow Isbella Diaz on Twitter @isbelladiaz