An African consortium of international researchers and growers, backed by policymakers in regional blocs of eastern and southern Africa has declared “war” against Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4), a highly pathogenic form of the banana Fusarium wilt, previously confined to Asia, but recently introduced to a farm in northern Mozambique.
FoC TR4 (also known as Panama disease) is caused by a fungal strain that can survive for decades in the soil, and once introduced to a country has never been previously eradicated. Production of Cavendish types of banana which dominate export markets, and some other local forms of banana, has been devastated across Asia, no thanks to Foc TR4.
Its introduction to Africa, probably by infected planting material by people, has already had a massive impact on the commercial plantation in Mozambique, and efforts are in place to contain the disease on this farm, to avert further spread and to prepare other African countries against similar incursions, says Dr Fen Beed, Plant Pathologist with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
To manage the disease outbreak and to prepare African countries reliant on banana for food security and income generation, a stakeholder workshop of the African Consortium for Foc TR4 (AC4TR4) was held in Stellenbosch, South Africa, 23-24 April 2014, on the theme: Development of a Strategy to address the threat of Foc TR4 in Africa. Representatives from the following organization took part: Southern African Development Community (SADC), The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), National Plant Protection Organizations (NPPO), IITA, Bioversity International, Stellenbosch University, national research organizations, and commercial growers.
Recommendations from the workshop have now been harmonized. A major output has been “The Stellenbosch Declaration on addressing the threat of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense tropical race 4 (Foc TR4) to banana production in Africa,” convened by SADC and COMESA, signed by member states and endorsing institutions.
This unique Declaration aims to combine forces to curtail the introduction and spread of Foc TR4 in Africa and in particular to achieve the following:
Fully develop and implement a continental strategy under the direction of an African Foc TR4 task force to contain the incursion of Foc TR4 in the Nampula province of Mozambique and prevent similar incursions elsewhere.
Provide and enhance technical capacity on the continent, and to implement and monitor phytosanitary systems, including wider use of International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures (ISPMs) and other matters concerning plant health to address the threat of Foc TR4 in Africa.
Report and map electronically by means of a web portal any new outbreaks of Foc TR4 in African member states and communicate information on new outbreaks, successful containment, and prevention initiatives.
Establish recognition that Foc TR4 is a continental issue that requires coordination and collaboration between NPPOs, RECs, ICPs, research institutions, universities, governments, and other relevant stakeholders throughout Africa by means of regular meetings and consultations.
Develop and apply appropriate diagnostic services, provide training, raise awareness, monitor disease spread, and screen banana germplasm for Foc TR4 resistance for deployment by vulnerable banana growers.
Call upon African and international organizations to recognize and support the activities of AC4TR4 by investing in research, awareness programs, human capacity, and infrastructure development on the continent among others.