Concern about the lack of controls
The banana crops of Colombia and other Latin American producers faces the risk of being affected by the arrival of a harmful fungus due to the increase in illegal migration from Asia and Africa, as well as the low health controls in Venezuela, said an official from the agricultural sector.
The Fusarium Tropical Race 4 fungus, which causes the Panama disease and can remain in the soil for up to 30 years, attacks the roots of the Cavendish banana variety and plantain.
The eventual arrival of the Fusarium to the region would negatively affect the economies of the banana producing countries and jeopardize food security, said the assistant manager of plant protection at the Colombian Agricultural Institute, Carlos Soto.
“It would be devastating if the fungus arrived, it would destroy everything. We can only take preventive actions, there is no cure for this fungus,” Soto said in a telephone interview with Reuters.
Colombia, the world’s fourth largest banana exporter after Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Guatemala, is working with Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia on a regional campaign to identify the presence of the disease and to increase health checks at borders.
The plan will also be presented to Central America in the coming weeks.
The fungus, which can be transported from one continent to another by migrants shoes, clothing or agricultural products, has been detected in Indonesia, China, Philippines, Malaysia, Pakistan, Australia, and Mozambique.
Colombia leads the regional campaign because it has become an important transit country for migrants from Asia and Africa that walk across the border with Panama, one of the main areas of cultivation, as they seek to reach the United States illegally through Central America.
Even though the fungus has not been detected in Latin America yet, Soto expressed concern about Venezuela’s lack of controls.
“I’m very concerned about Venezuela because it has no health management and that means they can have the disease and not know they have it, since there is a lot of migration and illegal trade coming from that border, it can be a real danger for us,” he said.
Colombia has 47,000 hectares of banana that generates 30,000 direct jobs. Additionally, the country has over 400,000 hectares of bananas for domestic consumption.
In 2015, Colombia exported 92 million boxes of bananas worth 800 million dollars to the European Union and to the United States.
In the middle of the last century, several banana plantations in Latin America and the Caribbean were infected with a strain of the fungus and had to be replaced by more resistant crops.
Publication date: 7/28/2016