August 23: TR4 strain of Panama (withering) disease has been found in bananas for the first time in Nepal. This disease in bananas is caused by Fusaria Oxysporum Cubense Fungi, which is a TR4 strain of the Panama disease.
Stakeholders say that Nepal's banana business, which has an investment of Rs 15 billion, is at risk of collapsing if the outbreak is not curbed in time. This disease is spreading rapidly in other countries of the world.
Because this disease is caused by soil-dwelling fungus, it can spread easily through infected plants, soil, water, and agricultural tools. Also, it can move from one field to another even from the soil stuck on the tyres of the banana-carrying vehicle and shoes.
Agricultural scientist Ram Khadka says that since the TR4 strain of the disease can remain active for 20 years in the soil once infected, there is a risk that the Nepali banana business may collapse if preventive measures are not taken on time.
Nepal mostly produces bananas in Morang, Jhapa, Saptari, Chitwan, Kailali, Bardiya, Rupandehi and Nawalparasi districts. It is estimated that more than 50,000 people are involved in banana farming.
Khadka said that the TR4 strain of the disease is complex in nature and once infected, it affects for years, resulting in huge losses.
"That's why it is important for all stakeholders to be aware of this in time," he told New Business Age.
Currently, the TR4 strain has been observed in the banana orchards of nine farmers in Tikapur, Kailali. When the team of the National Crop Pathology Research Center and the Faculty of Agriculture of Sudurpaschim University observed around 8,000 banana plants in the affected area on July 26, it was found that about 40 percent of the plants showed symptoms of the disease.
This type of Panama disease was first observed in Australia in 1997. At that time, to prevent the spread of the disease, the Australian government destroyed all the plants in the fields and prohibited entry to the affected areas for 15 years. Eighteen years later, this disease again surfaced for the second time in Queensland, Australia. This species has also been seen in the neighboring countries of China and India’s Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
What is the TR4 strain?
According to scientists, the infection of bananas by this strain means the destruction of the farm itself. According to Khadka, all the crops in Africa and Australia were wiped out due to this disease. As the current banana species could not fight against this disease, the scientists did not bother to seek a remedy but instead invented a new species of banana 'G-Nine' which is resistant to the disease in order to revive commercial banana farming.
Khadka says that after the use of 'G-Nine' variety of banana in commercial farming around the world, other local banana species got wiped out due to this disease.
According to the National Agricultural Research Council (NARC), another strain of Panama disease was recorded in Nepal 15 years ago and it destroyed the local Malbhog variety of bananas in Nepal.
This disease causes the leaves of the banana plant to turn yellow and finally the tree will collapse. To avoid the infection, the place where the disease occurs should be sealed immediately.