Need to keep panama disease at bay

Panama disease of banana is posing a great risk to global banana production in many states. Tropical Race 4 (TR4), which affects Cavendish bananas as well as many other banana cultivars, was confirmed for the first time outside Southeast Asia in Jordan in 2013. This disease has drastically declined the banana production in most of the states. In Pakistan, bananas are majorly produced in the Sindh and Balochistan provinces. Symptoms of Fusarium wilt, including wilting of leaves and vascular discoloration in rhizomes and pseudostems, were first observed in 2012 in a 2-ha Cavendish plantation in Sindh. However, by 2014, approximately 121 ha were affected with this disease. Bananas can be grown on a wide range of soils provided they are fertile and well-drained. Stagnant water will cause diseases like Panama disease. In fact, banana-growing plots infested with the fungus remain contaminated for many years, thus making almost impossible for farmers to cultivate bananas on such a plot of land. Moreover, Pakistan has monoculture variety across Sindh, which is the most vulnerable to banana diseases because the fungus spreads through infected planting material, infested soil and water. Unfortunately, the fungus cannot be controlled using fungicides and cannot be eradicated from soil using fumigants. While on the other hand, developing new banana cultivars is not a workable option as it requires major investments in research and development. Widespread monoculture farming has left the banana trade especially vulnerable to decimation by fast-spreading diseases. Much of the Cavendish banana crop around the world is genetically identical; thus, a devastating fungus like Tropical Race 4 (TR4) spreads with ease as none of the monoculture is immune to its impacts. If no remedial measures are taken in time and the disease continues spreading to other regions including Pakistan it could incur a widespread damage to banana across the world, which is already experiencing extinction of qualitative and quantitative varieties. Since Pakistan is known for its quality banana production especially in Sindh and Balochistan, there is a desperate need to take pre-emptive measures to keep the panama disease at bay. At this stage, we should initiate proper training of people who could timely diagnose the fungus, ensure proper monitoring as well as reporting procedures. Moreover, farmers and other stakeholders need to be involved through holding discussions and arranging seminars in order to increase their awareness about the fungus. Major responsibility rests the decision makers who are supposed to adopt a pre-emptive approach in this regard as Pakistan as an agrarian state can no longer afford mishandling of the situation.

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