Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2022. 5:38 pm CST.
Photo Credit: Breaking Belize News
By Rubén Morales Iglesias: The Belize Cooperation Agreement for the Execution of the ‘Regional Project for the Prevention and Control of Fusarium Tropical Race 4 of Banana in Central America’ was signed on Thursday morning at the Taiwan Technical Mission Office in Central Farm, Cayo.
The agreement was launched and signed by the Minister of Agriculture Jose Abelardo Mai, the Ambassador of Taiwan to Belize David Kuan-Chou Chien, the Country Representative for the Regional International Organization for Plant Protection and Animal Health (OIRSA) Fermin Blanco, and Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) Director Zoe Zetina.
“This project is executed under the agreement signed by the Government of Taiwan and OIRSA,” said Chien. “Belize is one of Taiwan’s allies in Central America that will be benefitted by this project.”
“This project will invest in strengthening banana disease diagnosis capabilities.
“We are introducing a resistant variety from Taiwan which is key to the production of bananas … should there be any spread of the disease epidemic in the region, plus we can ensure the sustainable development of banana production in Belize.”
The US$5 million-project not only benefits Belize but also Guatemala and Honduras. Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) is investing USD 2.5 million and OIRSA another US$2.5 million.
According to Blanco, the Fusarium Tropical Race 4 (FOC TR4) is a banana disease which affects bananas and plantains and is currently only present in Colombia and in Peru. The disease, also known as banana wilt or Fusarium wilt, has been present for more than 20 years in the Asian continent, in the Philippines, Taiwan, and China, and has so far spread to 20 countries.
“Joint efforts are required among countries to prevent the entry of this devastating pathogen,” said Blanco.
“OIRSA through its member countries took notice of this situation since 2009 and took the initiative to organize a regional workshop to garner regional support to put in place measures to prevent the [entry] of this devastating pest into the Americas.”
Blanco said a harmonized regional contingency plan was developed.
If it were to enter Central America, the banana disease would devastate an industry that up to 2020 had exports of US$2.75 billion. According to a video presented during the signing of the project, the Fusarium Tropical Race 4 is a fungus that has no cure and that can remain alive in the ground for 30 years. The disease starts with the yellowing of the leaves and then attacks the entire plant.
The governments of the regions along with the private sector, OIRSA, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the Taiwan ICDF are investing resources to prevent the entry of Fusarium wilt to the isthmus. So far, they have worked on training for small and medium producers, biosecurity measures, and border prevention measures at quarantine posts. As protection strategies, they are using canine units and simulation exercises.
In September 2021, the Taiwan ICDF began the joint pilot project stage with OIRSA and the authorities in Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras to advance studies and activities with the objective of preventing and dealing with the FOC TR4. Four international forums, three virtual and one face-to-face, have been held already. Twelve technical training sessions have been conducted for the three countries.
As part of the Taiwan and OIRSA connection, BAHA personnel have received training to strengthen their laboratory diagnostic capacity if there were a suspect case on the field.
MAFSE said the project is also working on strengthening capacities in symptomatology and has been using Taiwan’s experience of coexistence with the disease. As mentioned by Ambassador Chien, Taiwan has been working with some fusarium resistant varieties.
Additionally, the Taiwan Space Center cooperates with satellite monitoring through the establishment of nine points in Central America which translates into 57 times more field inspections. During 2022, 133 satellite notifications have been made.
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 combat the Fusarium TR4 disease. At the time, representatives from Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica and Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Belize, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and Peru discussed establishing protocols to prevent the entry of the Fusarium TR4 fungus and controlling any discovered infections.
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