Posts Tagged ‘Philippines’

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Every few years, it seems, a scare goes around threatening the end of the global commercial banana industry—and usually the focus of the scare-stories is Panama disease, caused by the fungus ‘Foc’ (short for Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense).
The variety that made banana the ‘world’s favourite fruit’ was Gros Michel, but it was knocked out as a commercial crop in the 1950s and 1960s by Panama disease, specifically a form that we now call ‘Foc Race 1’. The banana that took its place was Cavendish, a variety found to be resistant to that form of Panama disease and subsequently distributed around the world. It currently dominates the global trade in bananas. But now the Cavendish banana has met its nemesis in the form of Tropical Race 4 of Panama disease—Foc-TR4. The new form of the disease has just about wiped out commercial Cavendish production in Malaysia and Indonesia (despite the best efforts of ACIAR’s previous Panama disease project in Indonesia), and this year there have been outbreaks, for the first time, in Africa and the Middle East.

banana panama disease
A banana plantation devastated by Panama disease (Tropical Race 4). Photo: Richard Markham/ACIAR

The front line in ACIAR’s battle with Foc-TR4 has now shifted to the southern Philippines, where ACIAR has recently launched a new project. There, some of the key players who were involved in the Indonesian project—Bioversity International and Queensland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry—have taken on board the lessons learned and are now trying to apply them to managing the disease, in collaboration with Filipino research organisations and commercial industry partners.

While the Indonesian project looked at specific antagonists to Foc, especially other fungi living in the soil that could compete with and control it, the Philippines project is focusing on encouraging farmers to grow groundcovers between the banana plants. Groundcovers can provide a favourable environment for a range of these antagonists to develop naturally. They also provide additional benefits, such as reducing soil erosion and surface water flow that can carry the fungus from plot to plot, as well as reducing the risk of farm workers carrying the disease in contaminated soil on their shoes.

In a recent visit to Davao, the hub of the Philippines’ banana industry, Queensland groundcover-advocate Tony Pattison engaged directly with some of the farmers to see what plant species might be acceptable within their production system. He also met with local researchers to see which species could be sourced locally and rapidly propagated. In addition the team discussed with the farmers how they liked the Foc-TR4-tolerant variants of Cavendish, selected in Taiwan and made available to other countries including the Philippines, through Bioversity International’s BAPNET.
The take-home message from our exploratory visit was that the banana industry is extremely competitive and, while producers are anxious to try our new combination of groundcovers and disease-tolerant varieties, the new technology will have to deliver high productivity quickly if it is going to save the local industry.

There are benefits to Australia too from this research. For example, Australian researchers and industry partners are evaluating and gaining experience in the use of groundcovers to manage Foc Race 1, which attacks Australia’s Lady Finger bananas. It will also serve as something of a ‘dress rehearsal’, in case Foc-TR4 should ever threaten the heart of Australia’s commercial banana industry—the Cavendish plantations in Queensland and northern New South Wales.

By Richard Markham, ACIAR Research Program Manager for Horticulture

More information:
ACIAR project HORT/2012/097—Integrated management of Fusarium wilt of bananas in the Philippines and Australia

ACIAR project HORT/2004/034—Diagnosis and management of wilt diseases of banana in Indonesia
ACIAR project HORT/2005/136—Mitigating the threat of banana Fusarium wilt: understanding the agroecological distribution of pathogenic forms and developing disease management strategies


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Philippines Invasive Species Aug  2014-5a

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The Philippines said an insect infestation had damaged another 400,000 coconut trees over the past week and could spread to the key growing areas by the end of this year, severely crippling the country’s most valuable agricultural export.

The fast-spreading infestation at the world’s top coconut oil exporter at a time when global demand is seen outstripping production from Asia, home to 85 percent of output, could further boost prices of the commodity in the world market. “The rate of infestation is very high,” Secretary Francis Pangilinan, who is in charge of the country’s food security, said on Monday while announcing a 24 percent jump in the number of trees affected in the past week to 2.1 million.

“If we don’t intervene, by the end of the year, Regions 5 and 9 would be affected too,” he said, referring to two key growing areas that account for about a fifth of the national output. “It’s a race against time.” Coconut oil prices in Rotterdam have jumped 13 percent this year to a high above $1,420 per tonne in June, as damage to trees from pests tightened supplies that have already been hit by last year’s typhoon in the Philippines.

While the 2.1 million affected trees represent less than 1 percent of the country’s more than 300 million coconut trees, Pangilinan said the entire Philippine coconut industry could get wiped out in just a matter of months if emergency measures to combat the infestation fail.

The country has already taken emergency measures to head off the coconut scale infestation, such as pruning of leaves and spraying of pesticides. The insect feeds on the leaves of the coconut tree, sucking nutrients until the leaves turn yellow, then die and fall off. A thousand insects can multiply to about 200,000 in just 45 days, said Romulo Arancon, administrator of the state agency Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA).

There is no official estimate yet on the loss of output from the infestation, but Pangilinan, also chairman of the PCA board, has said the damage could result in losses of more than 33 billion pesos ($756 million) in a year if it spreads to major coconut-growing provinces such as the Bicol region and the Zamboanga Peninsula. The country’s annual exports of coconut products averaged $1.3 billion in the past two years.

Overseas sales of coconut oil, used in products from food to fuel, have dwindled this year after Super Typhoon Haiyan damaged about 34 million trees late last year. Preliminary industry data showed January to May coconut oil shipments plunged 49 percent from a year ago to 302,297 tonnes. The industry group United Coconut Associations of the Philippines, which for now has retained its estimate for a 24.5 percent drop in exports this year to 850,000 tonnes, has said the insect infestation could further hurt output.

Copyright Reuters, 2014

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See 10 rice field bird photos at:




The blue-tailed bee-eater nests in holes burrowed into tall sandbanks

Rice fields cover 160 million hectares around the world — an area more than six times the size of the United Kingdom. They are an important ecosystem for various animals, including a number of birds that can be seen at the experimental paddies run by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

The IRRI fields in the Philippines cover just 250 hectares, but can be considered a microcosm of millions of rice fields globally in which sustainable agricultural practices, such as non-lethal methods of controlling rice-eating birds, are used.

These images were part of photography exhibition, Feathers in the Fields: The Birds of IRRI. They show the abundance of birds within a rice field ecosystem. This emphasises the need to carefully manage rice fields and, ultimately, the wildlife that depends on them, as well as the need to prevent their conversion to urban uses. It also offers a way to correct the misconception among many farmers that birds are pests and raise awareness that 90 per cent feed on harmful insects. The birds reduce dependence to pesticides producing greener rice farming.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net’s South-East Asia & Pacific desk.

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The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is marking the 150th harvest of its Long-Term Continuous Cropping Experiment (LTCCE), the world’s longest-running rice research project.

This living field laboratory offers humanity a firsthand glimpse into the wonders of how rice production can be sustained in a changing climate without adversely affecting the soil and the productivity of a rice ecosystem.

According to Dr. Roland Buresh and Mr. Teodoro Correa, Jr., who both manage the LTCCE, the production of rice has been sustained after 150 rice crops in 52 years. Soil organic matter, a measure of soil fertility, has not declined in the past 30 years. This has been achieved without the application of crop residues and organic fertilizer.

The soil has remained a healthy medium for microorganisms, which is unique to flooded soils, thus providing sufficient biological input of nitrogen from the atmosphere for rice plants to produce 2 to 3 tons per hectare per crop. The application of fertilizer at an optimal rate for high profit can produce more than double this rice yield.

The experiences of the LTCCE have shown that proper application of fertilizer, sufficient irrigation water, and the use of modern high-yielding rice varieties and good crop management practices are essential for sustainable rice production.


Yields vary from year to year, largely because of climate, and are higher during years and seasons with abundant sunlight. Insect pests and diseases have not been a major factor affecting rice yields because varieties grown in the LTCCE are resistant. They are regularly replaced with new high-yielding ones that are pest- and disease-resistant.

“We were fortunate that the first scientists of IRRI had the foresight to envision intensive cultivation of rice and initiate the LTCCE in 1962 to test the feasibility and sustainability of intensive rice cultivation with up to three crops per year,” Dr. Buresh explained. “Society has and will continue to benefit from the findings of this experiment.”

“The implications of this is enormous, especially as intensive cropping becomes inevitable when more than half of the world’s population or over 3.5 billion people eat rice as their staple food,” he added.

“This living field laboratory will enable scientists to identify and solve potential constraints in intensive rice cultivation before they appear in farmers’ fields. It will continue in the future to provide insight for sustaining the productivity of rice in a changing climate.”


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