Andean Ministers of Agriculture back Global Alliance against banana disease and call for increased joint international actions
San Jose, 7 May 2021 (IICA). The ministers and other high-level authorities of Agriculture of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru expressed their support for the efforts of the Global Alliance against TR4 to coordinate regional actions to combat and prevent the disease that is threatening worldwide banana production and, in turn, the nutrition and food security of millions of families throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly those who depend on the crop.
The endorsement was given during a meeting between the Alliance’s Executive Committee (whose Secretariat is coordinated by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture—IICA), the Ministers of Agriculture of Ecuador and Peru, Xavier Lazo and Federico Tenorio, respectively, Deputy Minister Álvaro Molinero of Bolivia, and Assistant Manager for Plant Protection of the Colombian Agricultural Institute, Herberth Matheus, who was representing the country’s minister, Rodolfo Enrique Zea.
Minister Lazo stated that the collaboration between the Andean countries and the Global Alliance against Fusarium TR4 would benefit other regions of Latin America and the Caribbean, by helping them to prevent and eventually control the presence of the fungus in their plantations.
The disease caused by Fusarium Tropical Race 4 (TR4) in banana plants is incurable and threatens the entire value chain – from small farmers and their families to vendors and even countries with large export volumes.
Ecuador is precisely one of those nations. “This problem is a real threat to our economic stability, as well as to dollarization, the employment and self-employment of many – over 15,000 people in the banana industry overall”, said Lazo, who stressed that since 2018, they have been working to reinforce the production chain’s biosecurity and are training farmers on how to prevent the fungus on their farms.
“The banana industry in our country benefits over two million people, both directly and indirectly, representing 17% of the economically active population, and earning foreign exchange exceeding USD $3.5 billion. It’s likely that during the Covid-19 pandemic, banana exports were subsidizing the sustenance and food of other families who were financially affected or who had lost their jobs”, added the Ecuadorian Minister of Agriculture.
Ecuador, Peru, and the other Andean nations have maintained close contact to prevent the spread of the fungus ever since it was detected in plantations in northern Peru approximately one month ago.
“Upon detecting the fungus on the farm of a small farmer, we created an epidemiological fence around an area of approximately 40 hectares. In Peru, production is mostly in the hands of small family farmers. Since we know that this disease spreads easily and represents a threat to both regional and global food security, it could have negative economic and in turn social impacts”, stated Minister Federico Tenorio.
Peru’s Minister of Agricultural Development and Irrigation underscored the role of the Global Alliance against TR4. “I am grateful to the Alliance for joining the efforts to mobilize resources, as well as to IICA and my colleague, the Minister of Ecuador, who, from the very beginning, has maintained an open line of communication with me. Thank you for making these meetings possible in order to develop actions at the border”, he stated.
Álvaro Molinero, Deputy Minister of Rural Development and Lands of Bolivia, stated that the disease is not yet present in his country, but that they are already taking phytosanitary prevention measures, with the support of IICA and other organizations.
Herberth Mateus, on behalf of Minister Zea from Colombia, reiterated the country’s commitment to taking part in regional initiatives to confront the TR4 situation. The presence of this fungal strain in the Americas was first detected in Colombia in 2019.
Role of the Global Alliance
Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA; Jorge Hernando Pedraza, Secretary General of the Andean Community; and Mariana Escobar Arango, FAO Representative in Peru, also participated in the meeting with the Executive Committee of the Global Alliance against TR4.
In addition to the Director General of IICA, the members of the Executive Committee who participated in the meeting were: Ronald Guendel, Global Director of Food Value Chains at Bayer Crop Science; scientists Gert Kema from Wageningen University and Ronny Swennen from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); Jeroen Kroezen, International Program Coordinator, Fruit and Vegetables, at Solidaridad; Jorge Sauma, General Manager of CORBANA; and Andrew Biles, CEO of Chiquita.
Gabriel Rodriguez, who heads the secretariat of the Alliance’s Executive Committee and is the IICA Representative in Paraguay, also attended the event.
The disease caused by Fusarium TR4 is the greatest threat to global banana production in the past 70 years. It originated in Asia and can be transferred from farm to farm by individuals, which makes proper management and prevention critical.
The only effective way to stop propagation is to burn the affected lands, which can no longer be used as the disease could reappear.
“Fusarium TR4 is the greatest threat to the banana industry in over half a century. The crop has a high commercial value and is a vital food source for over 400 million people around the world. To help tackle it, the Alliance is joining forces with academia, the private sector, research organizations, and other actors, and herein lies its strength. IICA strongly supports this initiative; the issue is sensitive and affects all aspects of political, social, cultural, and economic life in the Americas,” stated Manuel Otero, Director General of IICA.
Ronald Guendel of Bayer explained that when the global action group against the banana disease was first proposed, they could hardly imagine that so many actors would be working on the same issue. “Fortunately, IICA assumed the leadership of the Secretariat and coordinated with the Executive Committee and the work groups”, he added.
The executive explained that Bayer is fully committed to the Alliance. “As a technological company, we are seeking an alternative to the problem. Just as we saw with the Covid-19 pandemic, all parts need to work together with innovation at the center”, commented Guendel.
The Alliance’s mission is to support the banana industry and its actors in the fight against TR4, by developing knowledge, technology, and mechanisms aimed at finding a definitive scientific solution. Its actions are based on three pillars: prevention and training; genetic improvement; and control. It was formally established earlier this year but began its coordination efforts in 2020.
The group’s short-term objectives are to develop strategic alliances to reinforce fungal prevention and management, as well as to provide training to individual farmers and countries, while also implementing an information and communications campaign to raise awareness about the disease and the risks it poses to economic stability and global food security.
Over the next decade, with the help of scientific research and technology transfer, a new Fusarium TR4-resistant banana variety is expected to be developed for the collective good.
IICA Institutional Communication Division