Written by Sec Manny Piñol – A team of Filipino plant pathologists and agriculture experts has finally discovered the formula to solve the Fusarium Wilt or “Panama Disease,” a soil-inhabiting fungus which has devastated thousands of hectares of Cavendish Banana farms in Mindanao.
The team, led by Jose Barosa, Lalaine Albano Narreto and soil experts of Unifrutti Tropical Philippines, succeeded in saving and rehabilitating the Manupali Agri-Development Corp. Cavendish Banana farm in Valencia City, Bukidnon which in 2014 was nearly wiped out by the “Panama Disease.”
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.
While there are still negligible cases of the disease, the “Fusarium Wilt” problem 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,” Barosa told me during my visit to the farm on Wednesday.
The “Fusarium Wilt” or Panama Disease is a soil-inhabiting fungus which causes bananas, mainly the export variety Cavendish, to wilt and die.
The Cavendish Banana Industry, Mindanao’s major agricultural export commodity, floundered because of the devastation of the disease believed to have originated from Panama, thus the name.
Even the most advanced banana producing countries in South America suffered because of the unabated spread of the Fusarium Wilt.
In 2014, plant pathologist Lalaine Albano Narreto started a field experiment where the fields affected by the Fusarium Wilt were totally abandoned and all growing plants, including weeds, were “scorched” leaving the area barren for a certain period.
“We replanted after 3 months but the disease manifested again. So, we extended it to six months. Still the disease came back. Finally, we “scorched” the land for one year and denied the fungus any host to survive,” Narreto said.
Narreto said that following the third fallowing attempt, 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.
“That is the highest production in the country and the quality of the MADC bananas is outstanding,” said MinDA Banana Industry Consultant Robert Soriano who joined me in the visit to MADC on Wednesday.
The MADC success story had already spread and banana industry stakeholders from as far as South America visited the farm to learn from the Filipino banana experts.
The MADC success story is also a game changer for the country’s Cavendish Banana Industry which had suffered reversals because of the devastation of Fusarium Wilt.
The Mindanao Development Authority (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.
With this development, the Philippines could again regain its status as one of the top Cavendish Banana producers in the world.