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Thompson Reuters Foundation
Source: World Food Programme – Tue, 8 Apr 2014 12:26 PM
Author: World Food Programme http://www.trust.org/item/20140408170802-3zpig/?dm_i=1ANQ,2D17K,6LPWNX,8KKXQ,1

 

The Coffee Rust Crisis is hitting households; economies in the small village of La Conquista. One of those is Ilianas: Her husband relocated to Mexico to find work. She grew and sold plantains and bananas, but they are not as profitable as coffee. In order to make ends meet she did not enroll her eldest daughter in school. Fortunately between May and October, WFP and the Government of Guatemala will provide food and technical assistance to the families of La Conquista to help them overcome this crisis.

GUATEMALA CITY. –Iliana Miranda Alvarez lives in the community of La Conquista, Department of San Marcos. She is 31 years old, married, and mother of five children: two girls and three boys. The youngest one is only one year and five months old. Just like her neighbor’s, her family’s main source of income is coffee. Iliana and her husband own a lot of land in which they grow coffee and bananas. The lot is small and yields are low, to supplement their income and cover the family´s basic expenses, Iliana’s husband works as a migrant labourer.

Coffee Rust: The Silent Plague That Began 2 Years Ago Since 2012, La Conquista (in Guatemala) and other coffee growing communities in Central America have been affected by a plague of Coffee Rust. The result: Coffee crop yields have been reduced drastically during the 2012-2013 harvest season and no change is expected for the current 2013-2014 season. The impact has been considerably negative on families whose main source of income is coffee production. Heads of households are forced to find jobs in nearby coffee plantations, but these have also been hit by the plague. Iliana’s husband used to work for “La Union” plantation, which was also the source of income for many other locals. With coffee trees affected by the Coffee Rust at home and nearby plantations, Iliana’s husband was forced to go to Mexico in search of work. He was successful, but now he has to factor in additional expenses, such as transportation fares and living expenditures, which have reduced the family’s income by 10 percent, when compared to the previous year. The highest family income is 450 Quetzals (US$58), which doesn’t even cover a quarter of the cost of Guatemala’s Basic Food Basket- nutritional necessities, which is around 2,900 Quetzals (US$376) a month.

Bananas and Plantains Can’t Replace Coffee Despite their efforts to commercialize alternative crops, such as bananas and plantains, the women of La Conquista are bearing the brunt of the Coffee Rust crisis. To their dismay, the production and market prices of bananas and plantains are simply not enough to replace coffee. In the face of economic hardship, Iliana had to resort to a coping strategy to save money:  This year she decided not to enroll her eldest daughter in school simply because her family cannot afford the cost of uniforms and books. But at this stage any savings could not be enough. The situation will only worsen come May, which is the beginning of the Lean Season. Prices of staple foods such as maize will rise in the local market, making it harder for Coffee-Rust affected families to access nutritious foods.

La Conquista will receive WFP assistance Fortunately La Conquista will receive food and technical assistance from WFP and the Government of Guatemala. In exchange for building assets, the families in La Conquista will receive food to supplement their incomes between May and October, which is the critical Lean Season. The most vulnerable families will receive food rations with maize, beans, and vegetable oil to cover 50 percent of their food needs for the next six months. WFP works in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, which will also provide technical assistance to the community to improve soil conservation and raise crop yields. Iliana and other women in the community have started to build live fences (groups of trees, bushes, etc.) on their plots to prevent soil erosion and to improve soil quality in preparation for the technical assistance in the months to come.

16,000 Families in 6 Departments Are Receiving Assistance Besides the families in La Conquista, WFP currently supports 16,000 families affected by the Coffee Rust in six departments: Guatemala, Alta Verapaz, Baja Verapaz, Huehuetenango, El Quiche, and San Marcos. The beneficiary families are selected on criteria defined by WFP to guarantee that the most-in-need households receive assistance. Families are selected based on the following:

1. High vulnerability. 2. Own a small land plot with damaged crops caused by the 2012-2013 dry season, 50% of the crops were affected during the last crop cycle, or the family does not own land at all. 3. No food stocks. 4. Children under 5 years old live in the household. 5. Women as head of the household. 6. Members with special needs, elderly people, etc.

 

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The INDEPENDENT, 09 April, 2014

CAHAL MILMO Author Biography CHIEF REPORTER

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/bananageddon-millions-face-hunger-as-deadly-fungus-decimates-global-banana-crop-9239464.html?dm_i=1ANQ,2D17K,6LPWNX,8KL1J,1

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Disease spreads from Asia to Africa and may already have jumped to crucial plantations in Latin America

Scientists have warned that the world’s banana crop, worth £26 billion and a crucial part of the diet of more than 400 million people, is facing “disaster” from virulent diseases immune to pesticides or other forms of control.

Alarm at the most potent threat – a fungus known as Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4) – has risen dramatically after it was announced in recent weeks that it has jumped from South-east Asia, where it has already devastated export crops, to Mozambique and Jordan.

A United Nations agency told The Independent that the spread of TR4 represents an “expanded threat to global banana production”. Experts said there is a risk that the fungus, for which there is currently no effective treatment, has also already made the leap to the world’s most important banana growing areas in Latin America, where the disease threatens to destroy vast plantations of the Cavendish variety. The variety accounts for 95 per cent of the bananas shipped to export markets including the United Kingdom, in a trade worth £5.4bn.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) will warn in the coming days that the presence of TR4 in the Middle East and Africa means “virtually all export banana plantations” are vulnerable unless its spread can be stopped and new resistant strains developed.

In a briefing document obtained by The Independent, the FAO warns: “In view of the challenges associated with control of the disease and the risk posed to the global banana supply, it is evident that a concerted effort is required from industry, research institutions, government and international organisations to prevent spread of the disease.”

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An aircraft sprays fungicide over a plantation (Getty Images)

 

Scientists are particularly concerned about the impact of TR4 across the developing world, where an estimated 410 million people rely on the fruit for up to a third of their daily calories.

According to one estimate, TR4 could destroy up to 85 per cent of the world’s banana crop by volume.

Since it emerged in the 1950s as the replacement for another banana variety ravaged by an earlier form of Panama disease, Cavendish has helped make bananas the most valuable fruit crop in the world, dominated by large multinational growing companies such as Fyffes, Chiquita and Dole.

But the crop – and many other banana varieties – have no defence against TR4, which can live for 30 years or more in the soil and reduces the core of the banana plant to a blackened mush.

It can wipe out plantations within two or three years and despite measures to try to prevent its spread from the original outbreak in Indonesia, it is now on the move. Such is the virulence of soil-based fungus, it can be spread in water droplets or tiny amounts of earth on machinery or shoes.

Professor Rony Swennen, a leading banana expert based at Leuven University in Belgium, said: “If [TR4] is in Latin America, it is going to be a disaster, whatever the multinationals do. Teams of workers move across different countries. The risk is it is going to spread like a bush fire.”

Another senior scientist, who asked not to be named because of his links with the banana industry, said: “There are good grounds for believing that TR4 is already in Latin America.”

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Professor Rony Swennen, leading banana expert based at the University of Leuven

The Panama fungus is just one of several diseases which also threaten banana production, in particular among smallholders and subsistence farmers.

Black sigatoka, another fungus to have spread from Asia, has decimated production in parts of the Caribbean since it arrived in the 1990s, reducing exports by 90 to 100 per cent in five countries.

READ MORE: WHERE SEEDS OF THE FUTURE ARE GROWN

Researchers say they are struggling to secure funding to discover new banana varieties or develop disease-resistant GM strains.

Professor Randy Ploetz, of the University of Florida, said: “The Jordan and Mozambique TR4 outbreaks are alarming but have helped increase awareness about this problem.”

But the large producers insist the problem can be controlled. Dublin-based Fyffes, which last month announced a merger with America’s Chiquita to form the world’s largest banana company, said: “While we continue to monitor the situation, as of yet we do not foresee any serious impact for UK banana supplies.”

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A lab holding the World Banana Collection at the University of Leuven A lab holding the World Banana Collection at the University of Leuven

The Cavendish: A top banana under threat

When the world banana industry found itself in crisis in the 1950s, it was saved by a fruit cultivated in Derbyshire and named after a duke.

The Cavendish banana was grown by the gardener and architect Joseph Paxton while he was working for the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth House.

Paxton managed to acquire one of two banana plants sent to England in around 1830 and began growing the fruit in the stately home’s glasshouses. He named his banana Musa cavendishii after the 6th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish.

The Chatsworth bananas were later sent to Samoa and the Canary Islands, providing forerunners for the variety which emerged in the 1950s to succeed the Gros Michel or Big Mike – the banana sub-species wiped out by an early version of Panama disease between 1903 and 1960.

Cavendish is now the world’s single most successful – and valuable – banana, accounting for 47 per cent of all cultivated bananas and nearly the entire export trade, worth £5.3 billion.

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