OECS Commission flags new worry for floundering banana industry

The OECS Commission has issued a statement drawing attention to what it calls a “threat to regional economies and food security”.

Fusarium wilt of bananas, commonly known as Panama disease, is a destructive soil borne fungus that poses a threat to the production of all banana and plantain crops. 

Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 has reappeared and is now a priority pest threatening the region’s banana industry with serious economic, livelihood and food security repercussions.

There are four races of the fungus.

  • Race one spread globally in the first half of the 20th century destroying the Gros Michel Banana, which dominated world trade and also other banana varieties, but not the Cavendish variety;
  • Race two affects cooking banana species such as Bluggoe;
  • Race three infects only Heliconia species and not bananas; and 
  • Race four, the lethal fungal disease, not only affects most varieties of bananas and plantain but also the Cavendish on which over 90% of world trade is based.

Fusarium Wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4) was discovered in Taiwan in the late 1980s and has since reached Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

The OECS Commission says based on the work done by the Caribbean Plant Health Directors’ Technical Working Group on Bananas (Musa species), a highly suspicious case of the Fusarium Wilt TR4 has been discovered in the Americas. This means that everything must be done to safeguard the region from the entry of this disease.