Banana disease in Bukidnon under control; not enough reason to lay off workers

MALAYBALAY CITY  (MindaNews/19 January) — “This is not enough reason for them to opt to lay off workers or shut down,” the provincial agriculturist said as he reported that only  37 hectares of land planted to bananas have been infected by the Panama fungal disease.

He said the spread of the disease Fusarium wilt, commonly known as Panama fungal disease,  was immediately controlled by right management practice.

In his report, Engr. Alson Quimba, the provincial agriculturist, said the plantation area affected is “negligible and does not bother the big plantations” or give them reason to lay off workers or shut down operations.

He said the problem remains for backyard banana growers with 100 out of 2,442 hectares planted to bananas, suspected to be infected last year.

Quimba told MindaNews this is one reason why Bukidnon cannot be declared Panama disease-free as yet.

The report also said the Agrinanas Development Co. Inc.(ADCI) of the Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc. condemned and abandoned about 175 hectares of banana plantation.

But Quimba said they could not include this as among those infected with Fusarium wilt because when they went to the area it was already burned.

“We couldn’t confirm it anymore,” he added.

The fact finding team concluded that there is a need to educate the small banana growers to apply disease control measures.

Among their recommendation is for local governments to pass laws governing control measures, noting that some infected plants were dumped in irrigation canals, passing on the infection.

The team also recommended that the local government unit and the banana company strictly implement foot bath and wheel baths in plantation areas. It also recommended regular monitoring and information drive.

The Provincial Agriculture Office (PAO) had earlier composed a fact-finding team to investigate reports that a fungal disease had infected about a thousand hectares of banana plantations in the province.

Representatives from the PAO, the Department of Agriculture’s Regional Banana Task Force, and the Central Mindanao University composed the locally-initiated task force, including a team of pathologists or experts of plant diseases, who inspected banana plantations on November 8 to 10.

The team visited the plantations of Dole Philippines, ADCI Mt. Kitanglad Agri-Ventures, Inc., and Manupali Agri-Development Corp.

Quimba said the task force was in response to a resolution passed by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in September 2011 urging him to verify media reports about the disease.

Board member Jay Albarece (1st district), who authored the resolution, urged Quimba to verify an ABS-CBN report quoting the Davao-based Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) that a fungus called Fusarium oxysporum may have found its way to Bukidnon.

Albarece noted in his resolution that the fungus, also called Panama disease, is resistant to fungicide.

He said it could be the same fungus that contaminated some plantations in Compostela Valley and most recently in Santo Tomas in Davao del Norte.

Bukidnon has around 20,000 to 25,000 hectares of land planted to banana, he said.

Albarece cited that the province hosts a number of highland banana plantations, which employ thousands of regular employees.

“The outbreak of dreaded disease in its (Bukidnon) fertile plateaus is feared to bring about unthinkable adverse economic and social repercussions to the entire province and its people,” he said.

“If the reports of the disease’s presence in the province are true,the spread of the banana ailment should be immediately controlled and contained to prevent the same from spreading to the unaffected banana plantations in the province,” he added.

But Albarace said that if the reports were false, then Bukidnon must immediately declare it is “Panama disease-free.”

He said that though there are environmental issues related to the presence of banana plantations in Bukidnon, the province is not ready to face an employment crisis if the industry players decide to stop operations owing to the alleged existence of the disease.(Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)