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Rising Temperatures Heighten Global Risk of Banana Disease

Phnom Penh, July 9, 2024 – The latest strain of Banana Fusarium Wilt, a soil-borne fungal disease threatening the world's most popular tropical fruit, can be traced back to Taiwan in the 1970s. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported that the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) strain was detected in Australia, China, Indonesia, and Malaysia in the 1990s. By 2013, it had spread to Africa and within six years to Latin America, which accounts for two-thirds of the world's annual banana trade of over 19 million tonnes.


By 2020, the TR4 Global Network confirmed the presence of the strain in 22 countries, primarily in South and Southeast Asia, including Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Although not specifically mentioned by the network, Cambodian growers have reportedly been battling the disease for decades, according to the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC).

The Global Network, an initiative of the World Banana Forum hosted by the FAO, has labeled TR4 as "one of the most aggressive and destructive fungi in agricultural history" and a significant threat to global banana production. Its spread is expected to have devastating consequences for communities relying on bananas for their livelihoods and for consumers worldwide.


The FAO and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have noted that growing bananas and other tropical fruits is becoming increasingly challenging due to extreme weather conditions associated with climate change. The OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook for 2024 to 2033 highlights that rising temperatures are accelerating the spread of plant pests and diseases, including Banana Fusarium Wilt.

The TR4 strain is expanding and poses high risks to global banana supplies, as it affects a broader range of banana and plantain cultivars than other strains. Despite recent advancements in developing resistant varieties, no effective fungicide or eradication method is available. The continued spread of TR4 could lead to significant income losses and higher consumer costs in affected countries.


The Global Network emphasizes the critical need for effective resistance to the disease to prevent losses across various sectors and communities. Research to develop TR4-tolerant or resistant varieties is ongoing, but it requires time. The most effective current strategy is to prevent TR4 from spreading to uninfected areas and contain it upon detection.

In Cambodia, the IPPC launched a $2 million project with China in 2019 to develop phytosanitary capacity, including integrated pest management (IPM) measures to combat TR4. The project provided training in IPM technologies and demonstrated new Chinese technologies. Fifteen plant protection officers were trained in disease monitoring, early detection, and laboratory identification, enabling earlier detection and control of the disease.


The TR4 fungus attacks banana roots, clogging the plant's vascular system. It spreads through contaminated soil on farm tools, shoes, clothes, animals, and vehicles. Irrigation and drainage water also contribute to its spread, and storms can carry the fungus to new plantations. Once TR4 is in the soil, there are no effective treatments.

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