The plant pathologist is speaking out in response to an article that recently appeared in New Scientist depicting possible extinction due to the impact of two diseases, Black Sigatoka and Panama disease, on the global production of bananas.
"Diseases are, and will remain, major constraints to both export and subsistence production of banana, and there is no doubt that Black Sigatoka and Panama disease constitute the most important threats," said Randy C. Ploetz, Professor at the University of Florida's Tropical Research and Education Center. "However, it is unlikely that these problems will cause production to decrease greatly in the next decade, let alone that the crop will become extinct," said Ploetz.
According to Ploetz, Black Sigatoka affects diverse bananas used in subsistence agriculture, as well as the Cavendish cultivars that are used in export production. It is a serious foliar disease, but does not kill plants and is well controlled in export plantations with fungicides. In contrast, Panama disease is soil-borne and fatal. A new variant of the pathogen, tropical race 4, affects Cavendish cultivars in Southeast Asia and, thus, has raised concerns in the export trades.
The spread of tropical race 4 to the Americas would require either infected banana suckers or infested soil to be imported from Asia, both of which are strictly forbidden in the export-producing countries, said Ploetz. "If tropical race 4 did spread to the Western Hemisphere, damage would be restricted by the containment and eradication measures that would follow and the fact that the export trades rely on pathogen-free, tissue cultured plants to establish plantations," he said.
Ploetz said development of new hybrid bananas, as well as those produced via genetic transformation, must continue in order to supply producers with productive cultivars that resist important diseases, nematodes and insects.
The American Phytopathological Society (APS) is a non-profit, professional scientific organization dedicated to the study and control of plant diseases with 5,000 members worldwide.