Latin America and Caribbean on Alert Over 'Banana Pandemic'

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The arrival in Colombia of the so-called “banana pandemic” has put the Latin American and Caribbean region on alert, as it suggests a significant problem for hundreds of thousands of people who depend on bananas for food or as a source of income.

The cultivation of bananas, known in some countries as cambur or plantain, is connected to global food security and millions of small farmers’ livelihoods.

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These sectors face the threat of the tropical race 4 (R4T) strain of the Fusarium fungus, a soil-borne strain that originated in Asia in 1992, which has devastated large banana plantations around the world and, after its arrival last year in Colombia, has unleashed alarm in tropical Latin American and Caribbean countries.

The Fusarium fungus primarily attacks Cavendish bananas, one of the most common and cultivated banana varieties, which constitutes half of the world’s production, 95 percent of exports, and the largest market share in Latin America and the Caribbean.

There is still no treatment against the R4T strain of Fusarium, which causes wilting and death of the fruit and can affect the land for more than thirty years, becoming a global threat, spreading from Indonesia westward to countries such as India, Pakistan, Middle East, Africa, and Colombia, one of the leading producers of the fruit in South America.

So far, Colombia is the only country in this region where the strain has been confirmed in plantations in the north of the country. According to the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA), there is no specific answer to how and why it arrived there.

The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), for its part, considers the fungus as a source of food and income worldwide and that the consequences of the proliferation of the fungus in producing regions such as Latin America and the Caribbean could be “very serious.”

To address the threat, the Global Alliance for Cooperation in the Fight against Fusarium R4T was formally established, with the participation of representatives of the private and academic sectors, as well as various civil society organizations, government agencies, and international organizations, to contain the spread of the fungus and investigate it to find solutions to the problem.

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