ACIAR has launched a new project in Africa to protect small banana farmers in Mozambique and Tanzania against tropical Fusarium wilt race 4 (TR4).
The invasive soil-borne fungus causes plant diseases and can devastate banana plantations, a major staple in Africa and a vital cash crop in several African countries.
Led by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (QDAF), the initiative will investigate banana farming systems, cultivars grown and production practices in the two countries.
The project also seeks to work with country partners and landowners to identify practical biosecurity measures to reduce risks and mitigate potential damage from the disease on small farms.
‘Fusarium TR4 wilt poses a significant threat to banana production in Africa. Within 4 years, a 1,500-hectare Cavendish banana export plantation in northern Mozambique was destroyed, where the disease was first detected,” said Professor Altus Viljoen, coordinator of the project in South Africa.
The fungus later spread to nearby commercial farms, a small producer’s field, and was found on the island of Mayotte, off the east coast of Africa, in 2020, Professor Viljoen said.
The durability of TR4, which can survive in infested fields for decades, and the inability to eradicate it from the soil, could make the spread of Fusarium wilt in Mozambique and the rest of Africa catastrophic, destroying the livelihoods of millions of people.
According to 2017 estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, between 70 and 100 million people in East and Central Africa (ECA) depend on bananas for their livelihood. The crop is cultivated on around 2.5 million hectares in the region, representing 50% of total agricultural production in some countries, with an annual production value of US$4.3 billion.
“Working with partners in the 2 African countries, the researchers will investigate the risk posed by Fusarium TR4 wilt to smallholder banana growers,” said Irene Kernot, ACIAR Research Program Manager, Horticulture.
“The project aims to increase understanding of how factors such as crop diversity, production systems, lack of information and resources, and the landscape expose farms to the risk of Fusarium wilt,” said Ms Kernot.
The project then aims to identify practical and locally appropriate management strategies with stakeholders to mitigate the risk of TR4 spread. With the support of regulatory bodies, these measures could keep African banana fields free of disease.
Research from this project will contribute to the growing body of knowledge on the management of Fusarium TR4 wilt. It will also be valuable for the protection of other crops grown in small-scale production systems.
In addition, the results of the project will inform research, extension, and regulatory and policy decisions regarding Fusarium TR4 wilt in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, where smallholder banana farmers are common.
ACIAR has been investing in research to combat the spread of TR4 across the Indo-Pacific since 1990, and the insights gained through this research are vital to restricting the spread of the disease when it arrived in Australia in 2015.
QDAF is leading the project, in collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the Ministry of Agriculture of Tanzania, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mozambique, the Institute for Agricultural Research of Mozambique (IIAM), the Research Institute Tanzania Agricultural Institute (TARI) and the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
Learn more via the ACIAR website.