Thu | Aug 13, 2020

Jamaica's banana and plantain industries on high alert for TR4 disease

Published:Tuesday | October 8, 2019 | 5:21 PM
Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw - Rudolph Brown photo

Jamaica is restricting the importation of banana, plantains and any relatives of the plant family as the country is now on high alert for the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) disease, previously called “Panama Disease”, which attacks the crops.

Agriculture Minister Audley Shaw, in a statement in parliament this afternoon, informed that TR4 is considered one of the 10 most notable diseases in the history of agriculture “and is the most destructive disease to have affected bananas, plantains, and the Heliconia plant.”

The pathogen is resistant to fungicides and until now, its control is limited to phytosanitary measures.

Infected plants typically experience yellowing and wilting of the leaves.

Shaw explained that the fungus spreads through infected plant materials and infested soil particles attached to any item such as farm tools, shoes, clothes, animals and vehicles.

“This means that visitors to our shores and, even, we, as residents when we travel, can bring this fungus into Jamaica. As such, I am urging all visitors and residents to adhere to the guidelines as established by the Plant Quarantine and Produce Inspection Branch of the Ministry,” he said.

The agriculture minister emphasised that the disease is not in Jamaica, but noted that the Plant Quarantine and Produce Inspection Branch as well as the Banana Board and other relevant stakeholders have implemented preventative initiatives to safeguard the Jamaican banana and plantain industry.

He said banana and plantain producing nations of Latin America and the Caribbean including Jamaica are accelerating the agreed Action Plan for the prevention of the disease in the respective territories.

Noting that TR4 is not new, he said Jamaica moved to heightened its response because of the fact that the disease has now been reported in the western hemisphere for the first time and, on August 8, it was confirmed in Colombia, where over 150,000 hectares of banana and plantains were been destroyed in an effort to contain it.

In Photo: Banana plants infected by TR4 at a farm near Riohacha, Colombia, Thursday, August 22, 2019. (AP photo)

Shaw informed that a 2019 study and a review of Rural Agricultural Development Authority’s database in December 2018 show that there are 68,612 farmers operating in Jamaica’s banana and plantain industry, occupying approximately 20,822.53 hectares.

Additionally, the agriculture minister informed that banana production for 2018 increased by 22% over 2015 moving from 54,410 metric tonnes to 66,381 metric tonnes.

Further, 694 metric tonnes were exported in 2018 compared to 318 metric tonnes in 2015, a 118% increase. 

“Once this pest spreads to an area, the implementation of stringent phytosanitary measures is needed to prevent movement of the pathogen from infected areas to pest-free areas. That is why, Mr Speaker, we have prohibited the importation of banana, plantains and any relatives of the banana family into Jamaica,” said Shaw.

“I wish to underscore that the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, through its agencies and departments, including The Banana Board and the Plant Quarantine and Produce Inspection Branch, is working assiduously with partner agencies to prevent the entry of the TR4 disease into Jamaica,” he added.

Shaw said Jamaica has adopted the LAC Action Plan and a national task force is being established to develop and monitor the implementation of strategies aimed at preventing the introduction of the deadly disease into the island.

“I wish to assure you and the country that we are taking all the possible precautionary measures to safeguard our banana and plantain industry from this deadly disease.

"I implore all our farmers and consumers to follow the guidelines laid out as we seek to protect this industry." 

Shaw said a public awareness initiative will be undertaken to education Jamaicans about the disease. 

Two major preventative measures being undertaken are:

* The introduction of disinfection mats at our international airports and cruise ship piers for travellers to disinfect their shoes before entering Jamaica.

* The Banana Board has already established a diagnostic laboratory to conduct early identification of the disease so that, we are able to respond swiftly should this disease reach our shores.

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