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Jamaica on alert for dreaded banana disease

Senior staff reporter

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

MINISTER of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Audley Shaw yesterday put farmers on alert for the emergence of the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) disease in the hemisphere, and its potential threat to the region's banana and plantain industry.
Shaw noted that TR4, previously known as “Panama Disease”, a deadly disease affecting banana and plantain crops, is not present in Jamaica but put the industry on high alert “to keep it out of the island”.
“As a result of our monitoring and surveillance activities, the banana and plantain industry has been aware of the emergence of the disease in several countries for some time now,” he said, noting that it was first identified in Asia in 1964 and spread to the African continent and to the Middle East in 2013.
“So, it is not a new disease. However, what has heightened our response is the fact that this disease has now been reported in the western hemisphere for the first time and, on August 8, 2019, it was confirmed in the La Guahira region of Colombia, where over 150,000 hectares of banana and plantains have been destroyed in an effort to contain it,” he added.
Shaw recalled that the Jamaica banana and plantain industry is an important contributor to sustainable rural and national development. He said that a 2019 study and a review of RADA's database in December 2018 showed that there are 68,612 farmers operating in the Jamaica banana and plantain industry, occupying approximately 20,822.53 hectares.
He said that banana production for 2018 increased by 22 per cent over 2015, moving from 54,410 metric tonnes to 66,381 metric tonnes. Further, 694 metric tonnes were exported in 2018 compared to 318 metric tonnes in 2015, a 118 per cent increase.  
He added that the fungus spreads through infected plant materials and infested soil particles attached to any item, such as farm tools, shoes, clothes, animals and vehicles, which visitors to Jamaica, and even residents, when they travel, can bring the fungus into Jamaica.
“As such, I am urging all visitors and residents to adhere to the guidelines as established by the Plant Quarantine and Produce Inspection Branch of the Ministry,” the minister said.