Bananas are a staple food for more than 400 million people in the tropics. They are the fourth most consumed food crop, the most consumed non-cereal staple food, and the most consumed fruit in the world. Global banana production is, however, under critical attack by widespread fungal diseases. There are two major causes Panama disease and Black Sigatoka. Gert Kema, senior researcher at Wageningen Plant Research Business Unit Biointeractions & Plant Health, has for many years been conducting research into these diseases.
The livelihoods of millions of people are at stake due to the Panama disease, caused by the Fusarium fungus, which wipes out banana plantations, contaminates soils for decades and cannot be suppressed. It is currently threatening banana production throughout South-East Asia.
The fungus Mycosphaerella fijiensis causes Black Sigatoka, also a global problem. It is forcing banana producers to use more and more chemical pesticides, with all the attendant detrimental effects on the environment.
A new promising project, initiated by Gert Kema is PromoBanana. The public-private collaboration programme PromoBanana focuses on the Philippines where fundamental and applied knowledge about Panama disease and Black Sigatoka is used for setting up a professional service laboratory. This laboratory offers small and large banana growers the possibility of early disease detection, to prevent spreading, and to optimise fertilisation.