Panama disease stalks banana cultivation in Kerala

The Panama disease caused by a soil-borne fungus is threatening banana crops across Kerala, posing a potential crisis for farmers, even as global efforts to control the disease gain momentum.

Scientists are concerned that the sporadic cases of infestation could turn into an epidemic. Most of the popular cultivars have shown signs of infestation. Scientists at the Kerala Agricultural University recommend soil treatment with fungicides for control of the disease but they are worried that farmers who are yet to recognise the enormity of the threat would ignore the need for intervention.

Also called Fusarium Wilt of banana, Panama is caused by the soil-borne fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cubense (Foc) . The fungus enters the plant through the roots and goes on to colonise the plant through the vascular system. It causes discoloration and wilting of leaves, and eventually kills the plant.

In the 1950s, Panama wiped out the Gros Michel banana, the dominant cultivar. Over the years, it spread from Panama to neighbouring countries. A new virulent strain of the disease known as Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is now threatening banana crops in Asia, Australia, Africa and the Middle East.

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