DA pulls out all stops vs Panama disease
Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - February 16, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture is calling for the cooperation among banana farmers and exporters to help address the lingering Panama disease or Fusarium wilt in a bid to further boost exports of the commodity.

“We will strongly collaborate with all banana farmers, big and small, and local chief executives to find a long-term and sustainable solution to solve the Panama disease, and at the same time increase the exports of fresh bananas and other by-products,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said.

“We are tapping the services of noted Filipino banana expert Agustin Molina, formerly of Bioversity International, for these efforts,” he added.

The Panama disease is caused by the soil-borne fungus Fusarium oxysporum that enters the plant’s roots, and colonizes the xylem vessels, blocking the flow of water and nutrients, which leads the plant to wilt and die.

Molina said some of the major issues confronting the industry are lack of viable lands, impact of climate change, shift in market conditions, and emergence of new competitors.

He added that the effect of the mild drought experienced in 2019 is still being felt in the early months of 2020.

In 2015, about 15,000 hectares out of 84,000 hectares planted to Cavendish banana were affected by Panama disease.,

“We are awaiting the results of geomapping being conducted by the DA-RFO 11 to validate the extent of infestation in Davao del Norte,” said Dar.

“We are glad that several major growers are planting disease-resistant varieties and so the impact is minimal on them, while the small and independent farmers feel the brunt of Fusarium wilt,” he added.

Despite the presence of the Panama disease, Dar said banana remains among the country’s top exports,  earning $1.77 billion from January to November 2019 and $1.38 billion in 2018.

“What more if we could solve the decades-old Panama disease that has been plaguing banana farms in Mindanao,” Dar said.

“That is why we at the Department of Agriculture are reaching out to all growers and exporters, local government units, and other industry stakeholders to forge stronger and more sustainable collaboration to put Panama disease to rest,” he added.

Dar recently instructed the heads of concerned DA agencies such as the High Value Crops Development Program, Agricultural Credit and Policy Council and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to work and craft with industry players a banana export roadmap.

He likewise cited the need for a strategy to effectively control Fusarium wilt.

Dar said the DA shall hold a stakeholders’ meeting to include all small, independent, medium, and big players in the industry, as well as LGUs, concerned DA agencies and DOST- PCARRD.

The meeting will discussed proposed stricter phytosanitary measures to manage, control and contain the Panama disease, including setting up foot baths and tire dips.

Dar said the DA would provide intervention measures for growers whose farms are disease-infested.

The  agency shall also conduct more farmers’ trainings on plant health and nutrition.

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE PANAMA WILLIAM DAR
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