GLOBAL – The global banana production is under threat from Black Sigatoka fungus, a banana crop disease that is caused by the leaf fungus Pseudocercospora fijiensis.

According to a recent study by Dutch researchers from Wageningen University & Research (WUR), the fungus is rapidly developing resistance to pesticides.

To make matters worse, researchers have identified the fungus from seven banana-producing countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa, making it a global problem

Cavendish bananas that account for more than 50 percent of world production – and dominate exports (95 percent) – are highly susceptible to Black Sigatoka.

Gert Kema, professor of Phytopathology at WUR warns that the reduced susceptibility of the fungus to fungicides is currently leading to a vicious circle of even more spraying in banana cultivation, which is further driving resistance to these fungicides in the fungus.  

Bananas are among the most popular fruits globally and are a primary food source for more than 400 million people in the tropics.

 The tropical crop is not only valued as a whole fruit but is also the base of key ingredients such as fruit extracts and sweeteners.

In most countries, banana production is therefore dependent on continuous intensive disease control with the help of azole fungicides.

 These azoles are also the cornerstone for the control of fungal diseases of other plants, as well as in animals and humans.

The researchers and their international colleagues also mapped all mutations in the fungus and their geographic distributions.

Their findings reveal that all identified mutations could be associated with reduced susceptibility to the fungicides.

“This alarming data calls for a radical and new rethink of sustainability in global banana cultivation, in the interest of the many producers and workers in the sector, as well as national and international consumers,” urges Kema.

To break the vicious cycle of drug resistance, the researchers advise the adoption of alternative disease control methods and new banana varieties.

Biological control as an alternative to the use of chemicals has been suggested as one of the feasible solutions to the Black sigatoka virus.

Fungi of the genus Trichoderma are extensively employed as biological control agents of many plant pathogens and could be useful in the fight against the disease.

Among the advantages of using biological agents is the low risk of adverse impacts on the environment and human health.

The lower cost of this technology also makes it a viable option that could be explored by banana farmers globally.

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