Gov’t measures to stop ‘Panama disease’ branded as ‘exercise in futility’

November 28th, 2011 by

DAVAO CITY, Nov 22, 2011—At least 1,000 hectares of banana farms in Southern Mindanao have been destroyed so far by Fusarium, a disease with no known cure that organic farming advocates said was aggravated by the practice of monocropping in the region.

The Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) said Fusarium, also known as Panama disease, had devastated more than 1,000 ha of banana farms as of yesterday.

Madeline Dizon-Marfori, PBGEA chair, said the problem threatens the survival of at least 300,000 families, who are dependent on the banana industry, which could be Mindanao’s top export revenue earner.

In her family’s company for example, Marfori said some people have lost their jobs after about 40 ha of banana farms that showed signs of the disease have been shut down.

She said the infected areas have no chance of recovering soon as the fungus that causes the disease is known to thrive in soil for at least five years. It was given the name Panama, after the Central American country where the disease wiped out entire banana plantations and brought the country’s economy to its knees.

“The Panama disease is the most serious challenge currently facing the banana industry,” Marfori said.

Lia Esquillo, executive director of the Interface for Development Intervention, said the Fusarium disease was a “problem waiting to happen” in big plantations here because the practice of crop monoculture reduces plants’ resistance to diseases.

“It was bound to occur because monoculture plantations are never sustainable.” she said. “The Fusarium disease is nature’s way of asking for a rest from all of the toxic abuse that the plantations have done to the soil.”

She said because big plantations propagate bananas through tissue culture, the susceptibility of bananas to the disease increased.

“The cavendish fruit is an infertile clone,” said Esquillo. “This means it doesn’t have the natural resistance to diseases which can only be developed from crossbreeding varieties.”

Esquillo said because the disease was difficult to control, the Department of Agriculture’s effort to help farms and plantations was “an exercise in futility.”

“As long as plantations do not have the agricultural biodiversity which comes from organic farming, crops will continue to be attacked by new diseases,” she said.

“Instead of helping out big banana corporations, the government should instead allocate funds to encourage more farmers to shift to more ecological and sustainable farming methods,” said Dagohoy Magaway, a member of the group Go Organic Davao City. Germelina Lacorte and Judy Quiros, Inquirer Mindanao