Colombia Declares National Emergency Over Devastating Banana Fungus

Bananas from plants infected with the fungus are safe for consumption, but the effects on agriculture could be widespread.
Chris Young

Colombia has announced a national emergency after a fungus was detected that has devastated banana crops in Asia.

The Fusarium type 4 (TR4) fungus has been detected across roughly 180 hectares in the northeastern province of La Guajira. Efforts are underway to contain the outbreak.


A dreaded outbreak

As The Independent reports, bananas are Colombia's third-largest agricultural export.

Though banana plants infected by the TR4 fungus are not unsafe for humans to consume, the plants eventually stop bearing fruit.

As per National Geographic, no known fungicide or biocontrol measure has proven effective against TR4.

“As far as I know, ICA and the farms are doing a good job in terms of containment, but eradication is almost impossible,” says Fernando García-Bastidas, a Colombian phytopathologist who coordinated testing, told National Geographic.

Crop restrictions

In a series of tweets in Spanish, Deyanira Barrero Leon, manager of Colombia's ICA agricultural institute, said the military and the police had been called in to help fight the spread of the disease. International experts have also been called in to help with the situation.

“We are responding with everything we’ve got,” she said.

A round-the-clock watch by agriculture officials and the Colombian military is helping to enforce restrictions on the movement of banana crops.

Unfortunately, the lack of genetic diversity in bananas makes them vulnerable to these types of devastating outbreaks.

TR4's history

The TR4 fungus was first identified in Taiwanese soil samples in the early 1990s.

The fungus remained in Southeast Asia and Australia for a long time before it was identified in both the Middle East and Africa in 2013.

Experts have long feared that TR4 could spread to Latin America. The continent is the epicenter of the global banana export industry, meaning that a large uncontained outbreak could be devastating for the local economy - potentially causing worldwide repercussions.

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