Archive for the ‘Fungi’ Category

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Annual Report 2013
Posted on May 27, 2014 by Kelly Izlar
The IPM Innovation Labs’s FY 2013 (October 1, 2012–September 30, 2013) annual report is now available. Click below to download the document.


For users with lower bandwidth and/or with interest in only certain specific topic areas, we will split individual chapters and major sections out of the Annual Report for you to view individually. Check back in the coming weeks for a list of individual chapters and sections for download. For more information contact: rmuni@vt.edu

Table of Contents

Management Entity Message
Highlights and Achievements in 2012–2013

Regional Programs
Latin America and the Caribbean
East Africa
West Africa
South Asia
Southeast Asia
Central Asia

Global Programs
International Plant Diagnostic Network (IPDN)
International Plant Virus Disease Network (IPVDN)
Impact Assessment
Gender Equity, Knowledge, and Capacity Building

Associate & Buy-In Awards

Training and Publications
Short- and Long-Term Training

Appendices: Collaborating Institutions and Acronyms

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Blunting Rice Disease
Researchers aim to disarm a ‘cereal killer’

Released: 6/2/2014 9:55 AM EDT
Source Newsroom: University of Delaware



This image shows, from top, rice that is not infected with the rice blast fungus; rice infected with rice blast; and infected rice treated with the beneficial microbe Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105

Newswise — A fungus that kills an estimated 30 percent of the world’s rice crop may finally have met its match, thanks to a research discovery made by scientists at the University of Delaware and the University of California at Davis.
The research team, led by Harsh Bais, associate professor of plant and soil sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, has identified a naturally occurring microbe living right in the soil around rice plants — Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105 — that inhibits the devastating fungus known as rice blast. What’s more, the beneficial soil microbe also induces a system-wide defense response in rice plants to battle the fungus.
The research, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is published in BMC Plant Biology and includes, along with Bais, authors Carla Spence, a doctoral student in the Department of Biological Sciences, Emily Alff, who recently earned her master’s degree in plant and soil sciences, and Nicole Donofrio, associate professor of plant and soil sciences, all from UD; and Sundaresan Venkatesan, professor, Cameron Johnson, assistant scientist, and graduate student Cassandra Ramos, all from UC Davis.
“We truly are working to disarm a ‘cereal killer’ and to do so using a natural, organic control,” says Bais, in his laboratory at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute. In addition to rice, a distinct population of the rice blast fungus also now threatens wheat production worldwide.
“Rice blast is a relentless killer, a force to be reckoned with, especially as rice is a staple in the daily diet of more than half the world’s population — that’s over 3 billion people,” Bais notes. “As global population continues to grow, biocontrol bacteria may be an important key for farmers to overcome crop losses due to plant disease and to produce more food from the same acre of land.”
According to Bais, the rice blast fungus (Magnaporthe oryzae) attacks rice plants through spores resembling pressure plugs that penetrate the plant tissue. Once these spores infiltrate the cell wall, the fungus “eats the plant alive,” as Bais says. Common symptoms of rice blast are telltale diamond shaped-lesions on the plant leaves.
In order to do its work, the spore must produce a structure called the appressorium, a filament that adheres to the plant surface like an anchor. Without it, the fungus can’t invade the plant.
In a research study published in the journal Planta this past October, Bais and colleagues Spence, Donofrio and Vidhyavathi Raman showed that Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105 strongly inhibited the formation of the appressorium and that priming rice plants with EA105 prior to infection by rice blast decreased lesion size.
For her work, Spence, the lead author, recently received the Carson Best Paper Award for the best scientific paper published by a Ph.D. student in biological sciences at UD.
The next step in the research was to sample the rhizosphere, the soil in the region around the roots of rice plants growing in the field, to reveal the microbial community living there and to attempt to elucidate their roles.
Thanks to DNA sequencing techniques, Bais says that identifying the various microorganisms in soil is easy. But understanding the role of each of those microorganisms is a continuing story.
A natural control for a deadly fungus
“Everyone knows what’s there, but we don’t know what they are doing,” Bais says of the microbes. To home in on the source of the antifungal impact, Bais and his colleagues are relying on what he refers to as “old school culturing” to find out if a single bacterium or a group of different bacteria are at work.
In their study reported in BMC Plant Biology, the researchers used gene sequencing techniques to identify 11 naturally occurring bacteria isolated from rice plants grown in the field in California. These bacteria were then tested in the laboratory, with Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105 demonstrating the strongest impact on rice blast. The soil microbe reduced the formation of the anchor-like appressoria by nearly 90 percent while also inhibiting fungal growth by 76 percent.
Bais points out that although hydrogen cyanide is commonly produced by pseudomonad bacteria, the antifungal impact of Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105 appears to be independent of cyanide production.
Applying a natural soil microbe as an antifungal treatment versus chemical pesticides offers multiple benefits to farmers and the environment, Bais says.
“Rice blast quickly learns how to get around synthetics — most manmade pesticides are effective only for about three years,” Bais says. “So it’s really cool to find a biological that can attenuate this thing.”
Bais, who also has conducted multiple studies with beneficial microbes in the Bacillus family, envisions a day when farmers will treat plants with a “magic cocktail of microbes” naturally found in soil to help boost their immunity and growth.
This summer, he and his colleagues will conduct field trials using Pseudomonas chlororaphis EA105 on rice plants grown on the UD farm. He also will work with farmers in the central states in India.
The research is supported by a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Plant Genome Research Project.

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May 30th, 2014
A development strategy to fight and contain a potentially deadly outbreak of the Tropical Race (TR4) strain of Panama Disease in Mozambique is being put together by a team of delegates who gathered in Africa last month to discuss a tactical approach to suppressing the banana disease so it doesn’t spread elsewhere on the continent. At www.freshfruitportal.com we reveal details of the workshop program ahead of an in-depth report to be published later this year.

Over the last few weeks a delegation of banana experts has been involved in discussions centering on the spread of TR4 to the African continent.

Since the fungus was discovered on a Matanuska banana plantation 15 months ago, a team of experts has joined forces to set up educational programs, while it is understood that a ‘continental action plan’ is currently being drafted.

Key players include the South African research institute Stellenbosch University, the South African Development Community (SADC), the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The program is also being supported and part funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

“When symptoms of yellowing and wilting of Cavendish bananas that appeared to be spreading were observed in an export plantation in northern Mozambique in February 2013, few would have expected the immense challenges that the following 12 months would bring,” the group has said in an initial report obtained by www.freshfruitportal.com.

“Once the cause of the symptoms was established, business became unusual for many on the continent, and indeed globally, as banana producers and their associated organizations started looking for answers to their questions and for measures to protect their crops.

“The development of a continental action plan to protect bananas in Africa became priority. Foc TR4 is not new to the banana world anymore. It has been ravaging Cavendish plantations and some local banana varieties in Asia for more than two decades.”

The document highlighted that bananas were a staple food for millions of people in Africa, and therefore it was necessary to form not only a containment strategy for the affected farm, but to make the whole continent prepared against a spread and possible reintroduction.

“This is exactly what the African meeting on TR4 intends to achieve,” the report adds.

It goes on to explain the considerable damage to Cavendish bananas and other locally-grown varieties in other countries around the world and how Mozambique needs to manage the disease outbreak.

“To prepare African countries reliant on banana for food and security and income generation, it is necessary to implement a series of informed interventions. The first priority is to contain the outbreak in northern Mozambique and prevent its spread across the region and to neighbouring countries.

“The second phase of activities is to prepare other countries dependent on banana against future incursions of this disease through enhanced plant bio-security frameworks and research capacity.

“Different types of banana germplasm, reflecting the diversity cultivated in Africa, require screening for resistance to Foc TR4, and the appropriate adoption and delivery pathways developed to provide resistant planting materials to hundreds of millions of Africans who depend on the crop for food security and income generation.”

The full report will contain further information including scientific advances and research approaches to detect and manage TR4, the potential impact TR4 will have on food availability in Africa, trans-boundary plant pest management in Africa, a mapping of the risks of any potential spread, and an overall official strategy to manage its control which sets out clear roles and responsibilities for all the institutions involved.

“This is not a task that a single research group or country can achieve. The discovery of TR4 in Mozambique is not a company or country issue. It is a continental issue which needs to be addresses by research organizations, national plant protection organizations, universities and governments throughout Africa,” the report goes on to say.

“The opportunity to develop a strategy and coordinate efforts on the continent has been made possible by much appreciated sponsorship and we thank the organizations for recognizing the importance of the outbreak and for enabling us to develop a combined strategy to deal with it.”

Meanwhile there has been somewhat of a global focus on maintaining TR4 Panama Disease this year with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations hosting a forum in Rome recently to outline the threat it poses to the international banana industry, food security and economies.

Chiquita CEO Ed Lonergan has also praised the global banana industry for its efforts to deal with TR4 and warned it would be prudent to prepare for life without the Cavendish.



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ABC Rural By Matt Brann

Updated Mon 12 May 2014, 1:41pm AEST
Banana Freckle disease


PHOTO: Banana Freckle has been found in the city of Palmerston, NT (Kristy O’Brien)


The Northern Territory city of Palmerston is in ‘banana lock-down’ after the fungal disease known as Banana Freckle was discovered in the suburb of Gray.

The NT’s Chief plant health manager, Stephen West, says the entire city has been declared a quarantine area and banana plants will have to be destroyed if they’re within one kilometre of the infected property.

“For those people that are within a five kilometre area of that property, they’ll be within what we call our control area,” he said.

“So what that basically means is that they can’t plant any new bananas and they can’t move any plant material.

“There will be some people that will lose their bananas in Palmerston.”

Mr West says no banana plant material will be allowed in or out of Palmerston while the quarantine zone is in place.

Banana Freckle was first discovered on Cavendish bananas in the Northern Territory last year, and a number of Top End areas are now under quarantine.

Around $4.4 million is being spent on trying to eradicate Banana Freckle from the Territory.

A Banana Freckle Hotline has been set up on 1800 771 163. For more information click here.

Dr Stephen West was on the NT Country Hour today to explain the ramifications of finding Banana Freckle in Palmerston, click on the audio link to hear that interview.



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Four million people in Central America and southern Mexico rely on coffee for their living, and coffee rust is a major threat. Credit Janet Jarman for The New York Times



A Coffee Crop Withers
Fungus Cripples Coffee Production Across Central America

SAN LUCAS TOLIMÁN, Guatemala — When coffee rust attacked the farms clinging to the volcanic slopes above this Mayan town, the disease was unsparing, reducing mountainside rows of coffee trees to lattices of gray twigs.

During last year’s harvest, Román Lec, who grows coffee on a few acres here, lost half his crop. This year, he borrowed about $2,000 for fertilizer and fungicide to protect the plants, as he did last year. But the disease returned and he lost even more.

“There are nights when you cannot sleep, thinking how to pay back the money,” said Mr. Lec, 65.

A plant-choking fungus called coffee rust, or la roya, has swept across Central America, withering trees and slashing production everywhere. As exports have plunged over the last two years, the effects have rippled through the local economies.

Big farmers hire fewer workers to pick the ripe coffee cherries that enclose the beans. Smaller farmers go into debt and sell livestock or tools to make up for the lost income. Sales fall at local merchants. Teenagers leave school to work on the farm because their parents can no longer hire outside help. At the very end of the chain are the landless migrant workers who earn just a few dollars a day.

The Declining Coffee Harvest
A fungus called “coffee rust” has caused declining harvests of Guatemalan coffee in the last two years. Luis Antonio, a coffee bean farmer, says the spread of the fungus is threatening his livelihood.

“If you frame this in terms of everyone that is connected to the economics of coffee, it’s a very serious problem,” said Roberto de Michele, a specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank who is based in Guatemala City.

The coffee rust has spread far and fast, driven by higher temperatures in the region that have allowed the fungus to thrive at higher altitudes. Many experts say climate change is largely to blame for the shifting weather patterns.

The economics of the business have added to the farmers’ plight. After years of low coffee prices, smaller farmers could not afford to replace aging coffee plants, which have proved more vulnerable to the rust’s attack.

“There was nothing to hold it back because the farms were in very poor shape,” said Maja Wallengren, a coffee expert based in Mexico.

The trouble here is just one of several factors that are pushing up prices in the global commodity market, increases that may carry over to supermarket shelves and the specialty coffee houses that sell the high-grade arabica coffee for which Central America is known. Market prices have risen 70 to 80 percent since November, driven mostly by drought in Brazil, the world’s largest producer.

In Central America, the pain is acute. Four million people there and in southern Mexico rely on coffee for their living, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. Twenty percent of the half-million jobs in Guatemala directly tied to the crop have already disappeared, estimated Nils Leporowski, the president of Anacafé, the country’s coffee board.

The rust outbreak has pushed many families to the edge of survival.

Nicolás Leja, in Guatemala, has lost as much as 60 percent of his production over the last two years. “The coffee income is very important,” he said. “It pays for corn and beans.”
“Roya has exposed the depth of the social and economic problems in terms of people’s vulnerability to the market and to climate change,” said Peter Loach, the Guatemala director of Mercy Corps, an aid agency. “What makes it different and complicated is that it’s a slow-onset natural disaster over two to three years.”

Even in good years, José Obispo Tax Talé, 34, had to scrimp to feed his eight children. In the past, his work as a day laborer on coffee farms would give him just enough money to rent land, buy fertilizer and grow corn for food.

Since the coffee rust hit, farmers are hiring fewer workers and paying less. So Mr. Tax had to borrow about $1,300 to grow corn. “Sometimes, you get desperate,” he said. “You want to work, but there is none.”

This year, the lean season, when food supplies run out for the poorest farmers, started two months early, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a monitoring service, because of falling coffee earnings and reduced corn yields over the last couple of years. Forecasts of irregular rainfall this summer raise additional concern.

“Year after year, these families are confronted by layers of vulnerability,” said Anne Valand of the World Food Programme, who estimated that as many as 300,000 Guatemalans could need emergency food aid later this year. “Bit by bit, the layers are becoming thinner.”

As the coffee rust has taken hold, farmers have been spending much of their time and money trying to fight the disease by spraying fungicide, replacing or cutting back old plants, and managing the shade trees that filter sunlight and appear to reduce the spread of the rust.

“People are scared of the roya,” said Nicolás Leja, who farms about seven acres in plots in San Antonio Palopó, a nearby municipality. He pruned his trees and sprayed fungicide, but it proved futile. He has lost as much as 60 percent of his production over the last two years.

Instead of hiring four workers for the harvest as he usually does, he relied on extra labor from his 18-year-old son, who put off plans to study medicine.

The changing fortunes of Guatemala’s small farmers raise the question of whether some of them should continue to grow coffee at all or instead should switch to food crops. Some say they could not make the change even if they wanted to.

“Beans and corn don’t grow well here,” Mr. Leja said, pointing at the steep hillside. “The coffee income is very important. It pays for corn and beans.”

The latest epidemic of coffee rust began in Central America three years ago. It spread rapidly last year, prompting most governments to declare states of emergency. Last year’s harvest fell 15 percent in Guatemala, and neighboring countries had losses as big and even bigger. Export figures suggest that Guatemala’s harvest this year has fallen an additional 10 percent.

Nobody has escaped. Guillermo Ríos, a midsize producer who grows coffee on 37 acres near the Mexican border in Huehuetenango, said he had sprayed fungicide four times and managed to limit the outbreak to just 10 percent of the plantation.

“My priority is to rescue what I invested,” he said in a telephone interview. But his profit was minimal, and the higher costs have halted his plans to add plants on additional land he owns. He will hire fewer workers than he expected.

While rust hit Central America in the 1970s and 1980s, the outbreaks were contained at lower altitudes. This rust outbreak has advanced to the highest altitudes, including the steep slopes here around Lake Atitlán. Rising temperatures and extreme weather, like flooding, have encouraged roya’s spread, said Ana R. Ríos, a climate change specialist at the Inter-American Development Bank.

With the changing conditions, the industry is intensifying efforts to breed varieties that are resistant to rust and heat stress while maintaining their quality. But the research is only beginning, and it may take 25 or 30 years before resistant hybrids reach farmers, said Leonardo Lombardini, the deputy director of World Coffee Research at Texas A&M University.

“The problem is that farmers are struggling and also the climate is changing rapidly,” Mr. Lombardini said. “The window of climate conditions for arabica is relatively narrow.”

Researchers are also growing plants from seeds collected all over the world and sending them to different countries for field trials to see where they thrive. That should give farmers who do not have much money to invest some assurances that when they replace their old trees, the new ones will be productive.

In the meantime, the priority is returning the farms to health.

Guatemala’s agriculture ministry provided small farmers with fungicide last year, although many complained that it reached them too late or that it was not enough. Others simply sold it. The government has increased the amount of money in a fund to provide low-interest loans to $100 million and extended it to 2026. The fund had only $28 million when the measure was approved last fall.

“The coffee here is positioned for its quality like the wines of France,” said José Sebastián Marcucci, Guatemala’s vice minister of agriculture. “The majority of coffee comes from the small producers. I hope that they can be motivated.”

With help from Anacafé, the government is showing farmers how to prune and replace their trees. They also plant beans and vegetables between the coffee seedlings to provide food while they wait three years for them to start producing.

More and more farmers are listening. Servando Santos, 56, the manager at the San Miguel Integrated Agricultural Cooperative in Tzampetey, said he fought off the rust by spraying fungicide, using fertilizer and controlling the shade over his plants. “You have to adapt to the roya,” he said. “You have to make friends with it.”

Mike McDonald contributed reporting from Guatemala City.

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Delta Farm Press

Disease-Control Strategies to Help Avoid Fungicide Resistance
May 1, 2014Sponsored by | DuPont Crop Protection



The quest for healthier crops and higher yields triggered a decade of increased fungicide use. Grower interest in fungicides soared after Asian soybean rust was identified in the United States in 2004. As agronomists responded with advice on scouting and fungicide use, the potentially devastating crop threat became manageable.

After the initial Asian soybean rust scare cooled, soybean growers began reporting yield improvements from fungicide use, even under low to moderate disease pressure. University and company trials confirmed those observations. For example, in 148 on-farm trials conducted by DuPont Pioneer from 2007 to 2011, fungicide applications alone or applied with insecticides increased soybean yield by 2.9 to 5.5 bushels per acre on average. Today’s higher grain prices make yield gains of that magnitude an economically viable reason to apply fungicide between the R2 and R5 growth stage to control common fungal diseases.


Over time, some plant diseases have developed fungicide resistance. “Growers are now learning to not rely on just one fungicide mode of action, and fungicide choices have improved,” said Todd Robran, grains fungicides and insecticides portfolio manager, DuPont Crop Protection. “DuPont has been working hard to bring growers the tools needed for evolving resistant disease populations.”

One example is a new fungicide that combines two modes of action for effective disease control and to help manage resistance. DuPont™ Aproach® Prima fungicide uses the same unique strobilurin found in DuPont™ Aproach® fungicide for preventive and curative control, plus a triazole to help control diseases such as frogeye leaf spot (including strobilurin-resistant populations), anthracnose, septoria brown spot, cercospora leaf blight, pod and stem blight, and soybean rust. Systemic movement within the plant protects all plant surfaces, including those near the soil where diseases often start, plus stems and leaves that have not emerged.

Robran points to field trials throughout the country where Aproach® Prima reduced incidence of disease and increased yield.

In soybeans, applying Aproach® Prima decreased severity of resistant frogeye leaf spot by more than 67 percent and increased yield by 6 bushels per acre over soybeans not treated with fungicide.*
Aproach® Prima applications decreased soybean rust incidence by 92 percent compared with untreated control plots, while Quilt Xcel only reduced rust incidence by 42 percent. That improved disease control increased soybean yield by 16 bushels per acre over Quilt Xcel plots.**


Overuse of any fungicide increases risk of developing disease resistance. Many fungi are polycyclic, producing spores in multiple cycles during the growing season. Each reproductive cycle presents another opportunity for resistant spores to replicate. Some diseases pose a greater risk for resistance development, including rusts, powdery mildews, leaf spots and blights. Heather Marie Kelly, extension plant pathologist, University of Tennessee, notes that frogeye leaf spot, in particular, can quickly develop strobilurin resistance.

“Strobilurin fungicides are still very effective tools for managing soybean diseases,” Kelly says. “However, as with any resistance management program, it’s important to use multiple modes of action to control disease. With two modes of action, Aproach® Prima fungicide provides good disease control for frogeye leaf spot and other diseases. It’s a good tool for resistance management.”

DuPont Crop Protection is collaborating through the Fungicide Resistance Action Committee (FRAC) to monitor plant disease and identify best practices to reduce development of fungicide-resistant diseases. A University of Kentucky plant pathology fact sheet, Principles of Fungicide Resistance, provides more details about how diseases develop resistance to fungicides. Ask your DuPont Crop Protection specialist about how an integrated foliar health program that includes Aproach® Prima fungicide and appropriate insect control can improve yield potential and reduce the risk of resistance in your fields.

* Results from a 2011 trial conducted by M. Newman, Tennessee.

** Results from a 2012 Auburn University trial including Aproach® Prima and Quilt Xcel fungicide. Applications made at R2 and 14 days later.

Always read and follow all label directions and precautions for use.

Quilt Xcel is a trademark of a Syngenta Group Company.

DuPont™ Aproach® Prima may not be available in every state. See your local DuPont representative or retailer for details on availability.

The DuPont Oval Logo, DuPont™, The miracles of science™ and Aproach® are trademarks or registered trademarks of DuPont or its affiliates.

Copyright © 2014 E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. All rights reserved.

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Photo: http://www.shutterstock.com

April 21st, 2014

Major banana-producing regions went on alert last week , heeding a warning from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the frightening return of Panama Disease.

The FAO asked traders and producers to step up their monitoring and prevention efforts for Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, the soil-borne fungus that propagates Panama Disease and brought the commercial industry to its knees in the 1950s.

Although planted for its resistance, the leading Cavendish variety has fallen prey to a recent Fusarium mutation, dubbed Tropical Race 4 (TR4). This evolved strain of Panama Disease has threatened Asian producers since the 1990s.

Fear now grows that this killer fungus could spread further into Asia, Africa and Latin America, following new detections in Mozambique and Jordan.

Gianluca Gondolini, secretariat of the World Banana Forum, said Latin American in particular will need to implement prevention efforts to protect the livelihood of its banana-producing nations.

“Latin America has three of the world’s biggest exporters, Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guatemala. That poses a threat from a market perspective and has companies and governments on alert because it relates to revenue as well as the livelihood of the people working with banana plantations,” Gondolini told http://www.freshfruitportal.com.

“It could create a similar portrait to what happened in Panama 50 years ago when the entire industry was devastated by Fusarium and all the Gros Michel was replaced with Cavendish.”

Although the consequences of Fusarium propagation are hard to predict, Gondolini pointed to historical examples of Panama Disease to demonstrate what could lie ahead.

“We can talk about what has happened in the past and analyze what has been the impact of Fusarium in previous varieties like Gros Michel, which created a sort of crossroad between the industry entirely failing or replacing it with another variety, which was the case in the 60s,” he said.

“There are places in Asia that have been affected for 20 years by TR4 and the consequence is quite impressive for them because the disease is expanding every year. It is estimated in the Philippines, the fourth largest exporter in the world, that the track is increasing by 7% a year.”

TR4 has already been detected in three of the top 10 banana-producing nations: China, the Philippines and Indonesia. In addition to the recent cases in Mozambique and Jordan, TR4 has also attacked plantations in Australia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Click here for a map of where Panama Disease Race 1 and Race 4 are present.  http://panamadisease.org/map/map

“The point is that the industry is not able to manage Fusarium in agronomic terms. Once it gets in the soil of the plant, it is impossible. There are no options unless you abandon the plantation for years,” he said.

“To say that it won’t spread, that’s an issue. It’s a matter of time. It’s expanding because of the different nature of the disease. It’s through movement of equipment and people. There is always potential risk.”


In response, the World Banana Forum has created a task force that brings together banana companies, NGOs, government bodies and academics to collaborate on an action plan. TR4 is also on the agenda for upcoming meetings in Kenya, South Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago, the FAO reported.

“We need immediate action and long-term action. The immediate action is raising awareness, defining informational materials, defining groups. We also need capacity building, training materials, quarantines,” Gondolini said.

“In the long term, the issue relates to resistant varieties, which could be the best solution. We also need an early warning system to detect the disease and prevent spread to other areas.”

Gondolini emphasized the social and economic importance of bananas on a global level.

FAOSTAT lists bananas as the eighth most important food crop in the world and the fourth most important food crop among the world’s least-developed countries.

Bananas not only rank as the fruit of choice for U.S. shoppers, but it is also a dietary staple for many living in West Africa, Central America and Asia.

“It is a global crop so it has an impact on the livelihood of people in producing countries and actors involved along the supply chain,” Gondolini said.

“This is a risk for the sector but also an opportunity to collaborate, so we should really leverage the support of everyone involved in the banana sector.”



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Thompson Reuters Foundation
Source: World Food Programme – Tue, 8 Apr 2014 12:26 PM
Author: World Food Programme http://www.trust.org/item/20140408170802-3zpig/?dm_i=1ANQ,2D17K,6LPWNX,8KKXQ,1


The Coffee Rust Crisis is hitting households; economies in the small village of La Conquista. One of those is Ilianas: Her husband relocated to Mexico to find work. She grew and sold plantains and bananas, but they are not as profitable as coffee. In order to make ends meet she did not enroll her eldest daughter in school. Fortunately between May and October, WFP and the Government of Guatemala will provide food and technical assistance to the families of La Conquista to help them overcome this crisis.

GUATEMALA CITY. –Iliana Miranda Alvarez lives in the community of La Conquista, Department of San Marcos. She is 31 years old, married, and mother of five children: two girls and three boys. The youngest one is only one year and five months old. Just like her neighbor’s, her family’s main source of income is coffee. Iliana and her husband own a lot of land in which they grow coffee and bananas. The lot is small and yields are low, to supplement their income and cover the family´s basic expenses, Iliana’s husband works as a migrant labourer.

Coffee Rust: The Silent Plague That Began 2 Years Ago Since 2012, La Conquista (in Guatemala) and other coffee growing communities in Central America have been affected by a plague of Coffee Rust. The result: Coffee crop yields have been reduced drastically during the 2012-2013 harvest season and no change is expected for the current 2013-2014 season. The impact has been considerably negative on families whose main source of income is coffee production. Heads of households are forced to find jobs in nearby coffee plantations, but these have also been hit by the plague. Iliana’s husband used to work for “La Union” plantation, which was also the source of income for many other locals. With coffee trees affected by the Coffee Rust at home and nearby plantations, Iliana’s husband was forced to go to Mexico in search of work. He was successful, but now he has to factor in additional expenses, such as transportation fares and living expenditures, which have reduced the family’s income by 10 percent, when compared to the previous year. The highest family income is 450 Quetzals (US$58), which doesn’t even cover a quarter of the cost of Guatemala’s Basic Food Basket- nutritional necessities, which is around 2,900 Quetzals (US$376) a month.

Bananas and Plantains Can’t Replace Coffee Despite their efforts to commercialize alternative crops, such as bananas and plantains, the women of La Conquista are bearing the brunt of the Coffee Rust crisis. To their dismay, the production and market prices of bananas and plantains are simply not enough to replace coffee. In the face of economic hardship, Iliana had to resort to a coping strategy to save money:  This year she decided not to enroll her eldest daughter in school simply because her family cannot afford the cost of uniforms and books. But at this stage any savings could not be enough. The situation will only worsen come May, which is the beginning of the Lean Season. Prices of staple foods such as maize will rise in the local market, making it harder for Coffee-Rust affected families to access nutritious foods.

La Conquista will receive WFP assistance Fortunately La Conquista will receive food and technical assistance from WFP and the Government of Guatemala. In exchange for building assets, the families in La Conquista will receive food to supplement their incomes between May and October, which is the critical Lean Season. The most vulnerable families will receive food rations with maize, beans, and vegetable oil to cover 50 percent of their food needs for the next six months. WFP works in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, which will also provide technical assistance to the community to improve soil conservation and raise crop yields. Iliana and other women in the community have started to build live fences (groups of trees, bushes, etc.) on their plots to prevent soil erosion and to improve soil quality in preparation for the technical assistance in the months to come.

16,000 Families in 6 Departments Are Receiving Assistance Besides the families in La Conquista, WFP currently supports 16,000 families affected by the Coffee Rust in six departments: Guatemala, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Huehuetenango, El Quiche, and San Marcos. The beneficiary families are selected on criteria defined by WFP to guarantee that the most-in-need households receive assistance. Families are selected based on the following:

1. High vulnerability. 2. Own a small land plot with damaged crops caused by the 2012-2013 dry season, 50% of the crops were affected during the last crop cycle, or the family does not own land at all. 3. No food stocks. 4. Children under 5 years old live in the household. 5. Women as head of the household. 6. Members with special needs, elderly people, etc.


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Photo: Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN- Wheat under threat

JOHANNESBURG, 2 April 2014 (IRIN) – Outbreaks of a deadly fungal disease in wheat crops in Germany and Ethiopia in 2013 have had the scientific community buzzing over the threat posed to global food security.

Wheat stem rust, also known as wheat black rust, is often referred to as the “polio of agriculture”: The rapidly mutating fungal disease can travel thousands of kilometres and wipe out crops.

Wheat farmers and scientists at a recent summit hosted by the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT ) have been examining outbreaks of different strains of wheat stem rust in the two countries to identify any similarities.

In Germany “the occurrence of stem rust was favoured by a period of unusually high temperatures… and an unusually late development of the wheat crop due to cold spring and early summer temperatures,” explained Kerstin Flath, senior scientist at Germany’s Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants at the Julius Kuehn-Institut. The outbreak occurred in June in central Germany, a mainly wheat producing area, and was the first in the country in several decades.

“A changing climate will ‘definitely’ favour this thermophilic fungus” Scientists noted that the rust came so late that even the fungicides sprayed earlier to prevent leaf rust epidemics proved ineffective.

Then in November 2013 the disease struck a popular variety of wheat in Ethiopia called digalu, used to make bread, said Bekele Abeyo, a senior scientist and wheat breeder at CIMMYT.

What was particularly disconcerting for the scientists was that digalu had been bred with inherent resistance to certain strains of stem rust and another wheat disease called “yellow rust” or “stripe”.

The fact that the fungus has been rapidly mutating has prompted scientists to study the two cases with a view to helping with the preparation of new wheat varieties.

David Hodson, a senior scientist with the Global Cereal Rust Monitoring Program at CIMMYT, says the analysis presented on the German outbreak showed “there were some clear specific differences between the races present in Germany compared to Ethiopia, although the races were similar and fitted into the same race group.”

In Ethiopia, he said, the season had also been favourable for rusts, with above-average and well distributed rainfall – conditions similar to those in 2010 when wheat crops there were affected by yellow rust.

However, said Hodson, “the key factor was the presence of a suitable host and the appearance of a race that was able to attack this host.”

Flath said the big question on the German outbreak was whether it “was a unique situation or if it will repeat this year” – particularly because they had had a rather mild winter, so the spores might have survived.

She reckons a changing climate will “definitely” favour this thermophilic fungus. In the last two years two new aggressive variants of the yellow rust-causing fungus have made huge inroads in central and northern Europe.


Fungicides are the first line of defence. A longer term solution is replacing the world’s entire wheat varieties with those that contain several minor rust-resistant genes, which are pooled together to counter the infection, giving them an edge over single rust-resistant genes in combating various mutated variants of the fungus. Digalu contains single rust-resistant genes.

There are 20 new stem-rust-resistant varieties of wheat available. But getting the new seeds to farmers has been a problem, mainly due to poor distribution networks and cost.

Industrialized countries have an edge in terms of resources, said Flath. But even developing countries, realizing that food security is at stake, are beginning to make massive investments, says Abeyo. For instance, after the outbreak in Ethiopia in 2010, the government invested US$3 in fungicides, which helped contain the fungus in 2013.

With global wheat supplies vulnerable to changing weather patterns, Abeyo says developing countries are realizing the need to become self-sufficient in grain.

“Countries are now making the investment in infrastructure and research to develop better varieties.” But they still have a long way to go. Better partnerships with the developed world in sharing information and skills to monitor and protect their crops are also proving to be effective, he added.


All wheat varieties will have to be replaced
Two new wheat varieties offer hope against stem rust
Mutant wheat killer on the prowl
Another strain of deadly wheat fungus in South Africa

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The INDEPENDENT, 09 April, 2014




Disease spreads from Asia to Africa and may already have jumped to crucial plantations in Latin America

Scientists have warned that the world’s banana crop, worth £26 billion and a crucial part of the diet of more than 400 million people, is facing “disaster” from virulent diseases immune to pesticides or other forms of control.

Alarm at the most potent threat – a fungus known as Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4) – has risen dramatically after it was announced in recent weeks that it has jumped from South-east Asia, where it has already devastated export crops, to Mozambique and Jordan.

A United Nations agency told The Independent that the spread of TR4 represents an “expanded threat to global banana production”. Experts said there is a risk that the fungus, for which there is currently no effective treatment, has also already made the leap to the world’s most important banana growing areas in Latin America, where the disease threatens to destroy vast plantations of the Cavendish variety. The variety accounts for 95 per cent of the bananas shipped to export markets including the United Kingdom, in a trade worth £5.4bn.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) will warn in the coming days that the presence of TR4 in the Middle East and Africa means “virtually all export banana plantations” are vulnerable unless its spread can be stopped and new resistant strains developed.

In a briefing document obtained by The Independent, the FAO warns: “In view of the challenges associated with control of the disease and the risk posed to the global banana supply, it is evident that a concerted effort is required from industry, research institutions, government and international organisations to prevent spread of the disease.”


An aircraft sprays fungicide over a plantation (Getty Images)


Scientists are particularly concerned about the impact of TR4 across the developing world, where an estimated 410 million people rely on the fruit for up to a third of their daily calories.

According to one estimate, TR4 could destroy up to 85 per cent of the world’s banana crop by volume.

Since it emerged in the 1950s as the replacement for another banana variety ravaged by an earlier form of Panama disease, Cavendish has helped make bananas the most valuable fruit crop in the world, dominated by large multinational growing companies such as Fyffes, Chiquita and Dole.

But the crop – and many other banana varieties – have no defence against TR4, which can live for 30 years or more in the soil and reduces the core of the banana plant to a blackened mush.

It can wipe out plantations within two or three years and despite measures to try to prevent its spread from the original outbreak in Indonesia, it is now on the move. Such is the virulence of soil-based fungus, it can be spread in water droplets or tiny amounts of earth on machinery or shoes.

Professor Rony Swennen, a leading banana expert based at Leuven University in Belgium, said: “If [TR4] is in Latin America, it is going to be a disaster, whatever the multinationals do. Teams of workers move across different countries. The risk is it is going to spread like a bush fire.”

Another senior scientist, who asked not to be named because of his links with the banana industry, said: “There are good grounds for believing that TR4 is already in Latin America.”


Professor Rony Swennen, leading banana expert based at the University of Leuven

The Panama fungus is just one of several diseases which also threaten banana production, in particular among smallholders and subsistence farmers.

Black sigatoka, another fungus to have spread from Asia, has decimated production in parts of the Caribbean since it arrived in the 1990s, reducing exports by 90 to 100 per cent in five countries.


Researchers say they are struggling to secure funding to discover new banana varieties or develop disease-resistant GM strains.

Professor Randy Ploetz, of the University of Florida, said: “The Jordan and Mozambique TR4 outbreaks are alarming but have helped increase awareness about this problem.”

But the large producers insist the problem can be controlled. Dublin-based Fyffes, which last month announced a merger with America’s Chiquita to form the world’s largest banana company, said: “While we continue to monitor the situation, as of yet we do not foresee any serious impact for UK banana supplies.”


A lab holding the World Banana Collection at the University of Leuven A lab holding the World Banana Collection at the University of Leuven

The Cavendish: A top banana under threat

When the world banana industry found itself in crisis in the 1950s, it was saved by a fruit cultivated in Derbyshire and named after a duke.

The Cavendish banana was grown by the gardener and architect Joseph Paxton while he was working for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House.

Paxton managed to acquire one of two banana plants sent to England in around 1830 and began growing the fruit in the stately home’s glasshouses. He named his banana Musa cavendishii after the 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish.

The Chatsworth bananas were later sent to Samoa and the Canary Islands, providing forerunners for the variety which emerged in the 1950s to succeed the Gros Michel or Big Mike – the banana sub-species wiped out by an early version of Panama disease between 1903 and 1960.

Cavendish is now the world’s single most successful – and valuable – banana, accounting for 47 per cent of all cultivated bananas and nearly the entire export trade, worth £5.3 billion.

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