From the Editor: Cavendish Vari­ant 218 Be­com­ing the Dar­ling of Cavendish Grow­ers

Agriculture - - News - FROM THE EDITOR >BY ZAC B. SARIAN

THE SEARCH for a banana va­ri­ety that is re­sis­tant to the very ag­gres­sive Trop­i­cal Race 4 (TR4) Fusar­ium Wilt dis­ease that has been af­fect­ing the old Gi­ant Cavendish and Wil­liams va­ri­eties has been on­go­ing since 2005, and the most promis­ing re­sult so far has been the Gi­ant Cavendish Tis­sue Cul­ture Vari­ant 218 from Tai­wan. This va­ri­ety which was brought to the Philip­pines un­der the ini­tia­tive of Dr. Agustin Molina Jr., then the Re­gional Co­or­di­na­tor for Asia Pa­cific of Biover­sity In­ter­na­tional, has be­come the dar­ling of small­holder as well as big time grow­ers in Min­danao.

Dr. Molina saw an ur­gent need for a so­lu­tion be­cause Fusar­ium Wilt was threat­en­ing the banana in­dus­try in Min­danao, which has been bring­ing into the coun­try about US$1 bil­lion a year. The vir­u­lent TR4 was first ob­served in the high­land ar­eas in Cali­nan, Davao City, in 2000, but no one sus­pected it was TR4. Then spo­radic in­fec­tion oc­curred in the tra­di­tional pro­duc­tion ar­eas in the low­lands, par­tic­u­larly Man­dug in Davao City, es­pe­cially around the river that comes from Cali­nan. By 2005, TR4 had spread and caused more epi­demics.

Dr. Molina, a plant pathol­o­gist who worked ear­lier for 10 years in Cen­tral Amer­ica as a se­nior sci­en­tist and later as cor­po­rate di­rec­tor of re­search and tech­ni­cal ser­vices at Chiq­uita Brands In­ter­na­tional, drew up a plan to at­tack the prob­lem. The first step was to find out the dis­ease or­gan­ism that was at­tack­ing the Cavendish banana plan­ta­tions in Min­danao. He was able to con­firm that the vir­u­lent dis­ease was caused by the Fusar­ium Wilt Trop­i­cal Race 4 (TR4) with the help of a lab­o­ra­tory at Stel­len­bosch Uni­ver­sity in South Africa. SMALL FARM­ERS WORST HIT - By 2010, it was es­ti­mated that no less than 3,000 hectares of small­holder Cavendish banana farm­ers were de­stroyed by the dis­ease. The big play­ers like Dole and sev­eral oth­ers had to adopt their own pre­ven­tive and cu­ra­tive mea­sures, but some 6,000 hectares of the big plan­ta­tions also suf­fered from se­vere in­fec­tion.

As early as the 1970s, Fusar­ium Wilt was al­ready in the Philip­pines but the strain was a mild one that was man­age­able. By 2005, the vir­u­lent TR4 was re­ally caus­ing se­vere losses.

Much ear­lier, Dr. Molina said, TR4 had wiped out the Cavendish plan­ta­tions of Chiq­uita Brands and other multi­na­tion­als in In­done­sia and Malaysia. They had hoped to pro­duce ba­nanas for the ex­pand­ing mar­ket in the Mid­dle East but they had to aban­don their projects be­cause of TR4. AROUSING AWARE­NESS - Af­ter con­firm­ing that TR4 was the cul­prit in the Min­danao Cavendish plan­ta­tions, Dr. Molina had to raise the aware­ness of all the stake­hold­ers in the banana in­dus­try, in­clud­ing the gov­ern­ment, multi­na­tional com­pa­nies, small­holder farm­ers, NGOs, and re­search or­ga­ni­za­tions. TBRI TAPPED - Be­ing fa­mil­iar with what was hap­pen­ing in the banana in­dus­try world­wide, Dr. Molina, as a Biover­sity co­or­di­na­tor in the Asia Pa­cific, had to ne­go­ti­ate with the Tai­wan Banana Re­search In­sti­tute to share their se­lec­tions of tis­sue cul­ture vari­ants that they had used to solve their TR4 Fusar­ium Wilt prob­lem. He had to em­ploy diplomacy in the frame­work of the Banana Asia Pa­cific Net­work that he co­or­di­nated to con­vince the TBRI to share their va­ri­etal se­lec­tions that could tol­er­ate TR4.

Six TBRI vari­ants were shared with Biover­sity In­ter­na­tional with the Bureau of Plant In­dus­try and UP Los Baños as the repos­i­tory agen­cies in the Philip­pines. Mean­while, in 2006, Dr. Molina, talked with La­pan­day Fruit, one of the big play­ers in the in­dus­try, to un­der­take tis­sue-cul­tur­ing of the im­ported GCTCVs or Gi­ant Cavendish Tis­sue Cul­ture Vari­ants. La­pan­day was only too glad to col­lab­o­rate and carry out pre­lim­i­nary tri­als in their in­fested farms with Dr. Molina be­cause some of the La­pan­day farms were also hit by TR4. By 2008, the epi­demics had sig­nif­i­cantly in­creased. The ar­eas in Man­dug were to­tally de­stroyed. By that time, all the gov­ern­ment agen­cies and other com­pa­nies were not yet ac­tive in ad­dress­ing the dis­ease.

Dr. Molina said that by 2011, the in­dus­try cried for help as thou­sands of hectares were al­ready af­fected (3,000 hectares from small grow­ers and about 6,000 hectares more from the multi­na­tion­als.) PCAARRD EN­GAGED – In 2011, Dr. Molina said that he then en­gaged PCAARRD (Philip­pine Coun­cil for

Dr. Emily Fe­bre­gar of La­pan­day and Dr. Gus Molina show­ing a tis­sue-cul­tured 218 va­ri­ety.

On the left is the dev­as­tated Lasang Farm of Dole in 2012. On the right is the same place planted to Vari­ant 218. The lat­ter photo was taken in July 2017, when the field was full of ro­bust Vari­ant 218 plants.

A smil­ing Dr. Molina at the Dole nurs­ery in Car­men, Davao del Norte.

Dr. Molina, Ce­cilia Don­aire, Dr. Estrel­li­eta Ald­aba, Zac B. Sarian, and a staff mem­ber at Dole’s tis­sue cul­ture fa­cil­ity.

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