Banana industry on alert for ‘Panama disease’
Ecuador’s agricultural ministry has ordered measures to protect the country’s banana industry from the so-called “Panama Disease” fungus that has ravaged the crop in other countries. The ministry has dispatched more than 100 agents to banana-growing regions in the coastal lowlands to train growers on ways to prevent infestation.
The government has imposed a quarantine on the import of banana plants at airports and border crossings as well as ordering the fumigation of trucks and shipping containers entering the country. In addition, the planting of new banana plants has been prohibited until further notice.
“Ecuador is the largest exporter of bananas in the world and we are acting quickly to protect our investment,” says Wilson Perez of the agricultural ministry. “This disease has ravaged the Cavendish [banana] crops in Central America and other parts of the world and we are doing everything possible to keep it out of our country.”
Technically known as Fusarium Race 4 Tropical Plague (FOC R4T), the Panama disease spreads quickly and can wipe out entire banana fields within months. It first appeared in Malaysia and Indonesia in 1989, spreading to China, Australia, Taiwan and the Philippines over the next 15 years. The current infestation appeared last year in Central America.
In addition to sending agents to visit banana growers, the agricultural ministry said it is conducting ongoing lab tests on crops.
There are an estimated 16,000 banana growers in Ecuador who tend crops on 300,000 hectares of land in six provinces.