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Diagnostic training on devastating Fusarium banana wilt disease being conducted for BAHA technicians

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Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2022. 8:11 pm CST.

Photo Credit: OIRSA

By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The Ministry of Agriculture with the collaboration of the International Regional Organization for Plant and Animal Health (OIRSA) and the Taiwan Government, is conducting a diagnostic capacity training for four Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) technicians so they can identify Fusarium Tropical Race 4.

The training is being conducted at Central Farm in the Cayo District.

The Fusarium Tropical Race 4, also known as Banana Fusarium Wilt or simply Banana Wilt, is a fungus that attacks the banana plant and kills it. An infestation of the disease could decimate the banana industry, said Fermin Blanco, OIRSA Country Representative.

That would mean a loss that could ascend to BZ$ 75 million.

“Fusarium Tropical Race 4 is a banana disease which affects bananas and plantains,” said Blanco.

“It’s only present in Colombia and in Peru, but it has been present for more than 20 years in the Asian continent, in the Philippines, Taiwan, and China.”

Luis Pook, Director of Communications at the Ministry of Agriculture said Belize must prepare for any eventuality related to Banana Wilt or Fusarium TR4.

“Before it hits Belize, and it’s very possible given that travel restrictions have been lifted for most countries including Belize, there has to be preparation on the part of BAHA when it comes to dealing with recognition,” said Pook.

“So, it’s a matter of preparing for whatever eventuality if it would ever come in. If Fusarium were to ever hit Belize, the banana industry would be in big trouble.”

It would be really big trouble because Latin America doesn’t have resistant varieties, said Banco.

“If that comes in, it’s going to wipe out everything,” Blanco said.

“Taiwan has been working with some tolerant varieties and the training here is basically for the strengthening of the laboratory diagnostic capacity so that the BAHA lab people can properly identify and diagnose the disease if there is a suspect case on the field. They have been trained to pick up samples and now they are going to do the lab part.”

The training is being conducted by Andrés Ávalos of the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture. According to Blanco, OIRSA also works very closely with the Guatemalan Ministry of Agriculture as part of a combined effort.

“He got trained in that area by the Taiwanese people and it’s funded by ROC Taiwan. They have funded the expert to come to Belize and do the training,” said Blanco.

Blanco said Ávalos came to Belize on Monday and was taken to Central Farm on a recognition tour and the actual training of the BAHA technicians started on Tuesday.

The Fusarium Tropical Race 4 training diagnostic capacity training for BAHA technicians ends on Friday.

In August 2019, when the banana wilt was discovered in La Guajira Province of Colombia, banana-producing countries in the region signed a joint declaration to fight the Fusarium TR4 disease. The representatives from Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru also discussed establishing protocols to prevent the entry of the Fusarium TR4 fungus and controlling any discovered infections.

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