Bananas In Peril Due To Bugs And Fungal Infections
December 18, 2013

Bugs, Fungal Infections Put World’s Banana Supply In Peril

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An infestation of insects and the spread of a banana-eating fungus are seriously threatening the global supply of the popular fruit, according to media reports published earlier this week.

One of the world’s largest suppliers of bananas, Costa Rica, has declared a state of “national emergency” after reporting that as much as one-fifth of the nation’s entire 2013 crop might have been destroyed by bugs, William Turvill of the Daily Mail wrote on Tuesday.

Last year, the Central American country supplied 1.2 million tons of bananas worldwide, he added. However, Magda Gonzalez, director of the Costa Rican agriculture ministry’s State Phytosanitary Services (SFE), told local media outlets that up to 24,000 hectares of banana fields have been affected by an increase in the number of mealybugs and scale insects on the country’s Atlantic coast regions.

Gonzalez added that the increase in those insect populations could be explained by global climate change – specifically, due to increasing temperatures and changes in rain patterns. Those factors could reduce the reproduction cycle of the mealybugs and scale insects by one-third, she added. Both types of insects weaken plants and cause blemishes on the fruits, noted Adam Withnall of The Independent.

Bugs aren’t the only threat to the world’s banana supply, however. A new report appearing in Scientific American warns that a type of banana-eating fungus previously limited to parts of Asia and Australia is starting to spread. The fungus in question, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense (Foc), has been found on plantations in Jordan and Mozambique, the study claims.

“The pathogen… has a particularly devastating effect on the popular Cavendish cultivar, which accounts for almost all of the multibillion-dollar banana export trade,” report contributors  Declan Butler and Nature magazine said, adding that experts are warning that the disease could be “disastrous” were it to spread worldwide.

The fungus was first detected in the 1990s and had been limited to Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, China and northern Australia until an outbreak was reported in Jordan on October 29. Currently, it is not known how the fungus arrived in either Jordan or Mozambique, though the authors said that contaminated soil inadvertently imported by migrant workers from Asia or infected rhizomes could be the culprits.

Rony Swennen, a breeder at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, told the researchers that this was a “gigantic problem,” and report co-author Gert Kema, a Fusarium researcher at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands, added that he was “incredibly concerned” about the spread of the fungus. Kema added that he would “not be surprised if it pops up in Latin America in the near future.”