Colombia, a major source of banana exports, has declared a national emergency due to the spread of a banana-eating fungus called Fusarium wilt tropical race 4, or TR4.
Signs of the fungus were first spotted in northern Colombia in June, Science reported.
The fungus has devastated banana plants across Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Middle East, causing millions of dollars in damages, Smithsnonian Mag said.
TR4, also called the “Panama disease,” had previously left the Earth’s western hemisphere unaffected. However, the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) announced during an August 8 press conference that the fungus had reached the country’s shores.
According to the ICA statement, laboratory tests confirmed the fungus’ presence in a 175-hectare area of Colombia’s Guajira Peninsula. A total of 168.5 of those hectares have been cleared, and ICA is working to prevent the spread of the fungus, including increased sanitary control at all entry points into the country and helping fund banana exporters who increase disinfection.
However, Science magazine points out that TR4 spores can last for decades in soil, and there are no known fungicides or other methods proven effective against it.
Gert Kema, a phytopathologist at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University, added, “Once you see [TR4], it is too late, and it has likely already spread outside that zone without recognition.”
National Geographic’s Myles Karp warned that the banana shortage could send residents of poor regions relying on bananas as a main food source into starvation.
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