New variety resists banana disease

by Zac Sarian
February 26, 2014

A new banana variety is proving to be a promising answer to the very destructive Panama Wilt disease, a.k.a. Fusarium Wilt, that has been progressively infecting Cavendish plantations in Mindanao in recent years.

The new variety is a variant of tissue-cultured Giant Cavendish from Taiwan better known simply as GCTCV 219. In farmers’ fields that we visited last February 20, we witnessed robust uninfected plants of GCTCV 219 planted in infected fields side by side with the susceptible plants.

FRUIT OF RESISTANT VARIANT BANANA – Jonas Mauro, manager of Mauro Farm, shows ripe fruits of GCTCV 219 which are sweeter than the ordinary Cavendish currently grown in the Philippines. The fruit is now acceptable to the traditional international markets like Japan, China and elsewhere. In fact, the fruit of GCTCV 219 is classified as elegant-tasting banana that fetches a premium price.

FRUIT OF RESISTANT VARIANT BANANA – Jonas Mauro, manager of Mauro Farm, shows ripe fruits of GCTCV 219 which are sweeter than the ordinary Cavendish currently grown in the Philippines. The fruit is now acceptable to the traditional international markets like Japan, China and elsewhere. In fact, the fruit of GCTCV 219 is classified as elegant-tasting banana that fetches a premium price.

For instance, in the Mauro Farm in Calinan, Davao City, rows of GCTCV plants are being grown side by side with the susceptible Grand Naine Giant Cavendish variety. The GCTCV plants are very healthy and virtually without infection whereas 80 percent of the ordinary Cavendish planted in a row just about two meters away have been wiped out by the Fusarium Wilt disease.

In a big portion of the PFFC farm of Luciano Puyod in Lasang, Davao City, only the tissue-cultured variants are standing unscathed by the Panama Wilt disease. Now, they are planting suckers of GCTCV 219 in the infected area without any chemical treatment of the soil. That is because so far there is no chemical that has been found to control or eradicate the fungus that can remain in the soil for many years.

The resistant variant was introduced from Taiwan by Bioversity International, an international NGO, through the initiative of Dr. Agustin Molina, a Filipino scientist who has a long track record working in the banana industry worldwide. He has been with Bioversity for many years now.

About five years ago, he collaborated with Lapanday, a commercial banana plantation in Davao City, so the variants (there are actually two that were selected) could be tested in the plantation of Lapanday where the Panama Wilt has been infecting their plants. The Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) was also involved in the testing program.

When GCTCV 219 plants were observed to be resistant to the disease, an upscaling project was financed by the Bureau of Agricultural Research of the Department of Agriculture. With the funding, tissue-cultured planting materials were planted commercially in the fields of 20 farmers infected with Panama Wilt.

The results so far are very encouraging. Out of 3,000 tissue-cultured plants grown in the Mauro Farm in Calinan, only 6 plants caught the disease, according to Jonas Mauro who has been managing the plantation. The infected plants had yellowing of the leaves and two had almost totally succumbed to the disease. The leaves of the pseudostems of the two have dried out but as if by miracle, they produced healthy suckers that up to this day are growing as if there was no infection.

As part of the study, the dried leaves and main stems were not removed in the field. And one can see the healthy suckers that are more than five feet tall now growing at the base of the two infected mother plants.

The next step now, according to Dr. Molina, is to engage the private tissue culture laboratories to produce seedlings of GCTCV 219 for mass planting in areas that are infected with the disease. Dr. Molina said he can provide the tissue culture companies with disease-free tissue culture materials for mass production.

Dr. Molina believes that it is best for private tissue culture laboratories to produce the planting materials because government tissue culture labs, including those in colleges of agriculture, might not be able to produce the planting materials on a sustainable basis. He observes that some laboratories in government institutions have not been able to produce the materials on a sustainable basis.

So far, not only the results in the growing field are encouraging. What is also very encouraging is that the fruit is now well accepted in the international market, and probably even in the local market. Many consumers in the Philippines are not very enthusiastic about the locally produced Cavendish because they are considered too bland compared to lakatan.

The good thing about the fruit of GCTCV 219 is that it is sweeter than the ordinary Cavendish. In Japan it is considered an elegant-tasting banana that could fetch a premium price in the market. It is grown in the lowland that can compare with the sweetness of those grown in higher elevations.

The only shortcoming of GCTCV 219, if that could be considered a big minus, is that the fruits mature about two weeks later than the ordinary Cavendish. But that should not be a big problem, according to Dr. Molina.

Actually, another promising variant that is currently under test is GCTCV 218. At the Lapanday plantation, it had shown resistance to the disease so that it is being further tested in other sites through the collaboration of PCAARRD. When the tests will be concluded and the variant passes the tests in flying colors, it will be upscaled in farmers’ fields funded by PCAARRD.

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