By Ali G. Macabalang
KIDAPAWAN CITY – Threats from Fusarium Wilt or “Panama Disease,” a soil-inhabiting fungus that ruin thousands of hectares of southern Cavendish Banana farms, are curbed nowadays, according to the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).
“A team of Filipino plant pathologists and agriculture experts has finally discovered the formula to solve the menace,” MinDA Chairman Manny Piñol said in a recent online post after visiting the Manupali Agri-Development Corp. (MSDC) Cavendish Banana farm in Valencia City, Bukidnon.
The team, led by Jose Barosa, Lalaine Albano Narreto and soil experts of Unifrutti Tropical Philippines, succeeded in saving and rehabilitating the MADC farm, whose farm suffered heavy devastation since 2014 from the disease, Sec. Piñol said in an online post Saturday.
After a 6-year field experiment started in 2015, MADC was brought back to life with the banana farm area expanded from 280 to 371 hectares, Pinol said, noting that negligible signs of Fusarium Wilt presence “is effectively under full control and easily prevented from spreading.”
“In 2014, this was a virtual ghost farm and we had to lay off workers because the whole plantation was devastated by the Panama Disease,” Piñol quoted Barosa as telling him during my visit to the farm on July 28.
The Panama Disease is a soil-inhabiting fungus which causes bananas, mainly the export variety Cavendish, to wilt and die, said Piñol, who once helped authorities in nearby regions to brace up against entry of the disease.
The Cavendish Banana Industry, Mindanao’s major agricultural export commodity, dawdled off from the devastation of the disease believed to have originated from Panama, thus the name, he said.
Even the most advanced banana producing countries in South America suffered because of the unabated spread of the Fusarium Wilt, said Piñol, who himself is a farmer.
In 2014, plant pathologist Lalaine Albano Narreto said they started an experiment on fields where disease-affected farms were totally abandoned and all growing plants, including weeds, turned dry leaving the area barren for some months.
Narreto recalled: “We replanted after three months but the disease manifested again. We extended it to six months, but the disease came back. Finally, we ‘scorched’ the land for one year and denied the fungus any host to survive.”
She said that following the third fattempt, a new variety of Cavendish Banana which is more tolerant to the Panama Disease was introduced.
“Today, the farm has totally been rehabilitated with some 1,000 workers and producing one of the highest yields for Cavendish Banana in the country with 4,200 boxes of Class A bananas per hectare every year,” the pathologist said.
Since then, the MADC has been posting “the highest production in the country and outstanding banana quality,” said MinDA Banana Industry consultant Robert Soriano, who joined Piñol in Wednesday’s ocular visit.
The MADC success story had already spread and banana industry stakeholders from as far as South America visited the rehabilitated farm to learn from the Filipino banana experts, according to Soriano.
The MinDA will undertake efforts to share the farm management and disease control methods formulated by MADC banana experts with other farmers in Mindanao to boost the country’s Cavendish Banana Industry.
Mindanao accounts for at least 90,000 hectares of farms planted to Cavendish bananas, according to the MADC.
With this development, the Philippines could again regain its status as one of the top Cavendish Banana producers in the world, Piñol said. (AGM)