By Carmelito Q. Francisco, Correspondent

Disease-resistant banana seedlings ready for small-farmer beneficiaries

Posted on March 10, 2015

DAVAO CITY -- A new variety of banana seedlings resistant to Panama disease is ready for distribution to Davao Region’s small farmers, the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) regional head announced.

Called the Giant Cavendish Tissue-Culture Variant (GCTCV) 219, the new type was developed in Taiwan by DA’s partners and has been successfully reproduced at the Bureau of Plant Industry research center here, said DA Region 10 Director Remelyn R. Recoter.

One trial site has been set up at the Almocera Farm in Bagongon town in Compostela Valley where banana growers and farm owners from the province as well as Davao del Norte recently visited and discussed the qualities of the new variety.

Compostela Valley and Davao del Norte are the two main export-quality banana producers of the Philippines.

Farm owner Gilton Almocera, who lost millions from the Panama Disease in his four-hectare plantation due to higher costs for pest eradication, said he will be harvesting the first batch of his GCTCV 219 variety in May.

“I thank the DA for extending its hand to us in addressing this problem. This has given banana farmers hope to rise again,” Mr. Almocera said in a statement issued by the DA.

The DA has allotted about P102 million this year, including the budget for the GCTCV 219 propagation, to help control the disease, which is also called fusarium wilt.

An estimated 3,000 hectares has been devastated since 2011 in the region, the country’s only fresh banana exporting area.

As of the first quarter of 2014, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show fresh banana to be the country’s top agricultural export product with a value of $317.4 million from January to March that year.

The GCTCV 219 variety has been accepted in the Japanese market, according to the DA citing Dr. Agustin B. Molina of Bioversity International-Asia and the Pacific Office.

Dr. Susan Razo, chief of the agency’s Integrated Laboratories Division, said farmers who want to avail of the seedlings will be required to submit documents and undergo training on the technology used in propagating the cultivar.

Those will be able to avail of the cultivar will also be asked to transfer their knowledge to other growers, Ms. Razo added.

Panama disease is a fungal infection that attacks the plant’s roots and spreads mainly through the soil.

Stephen A. Antig, executive director of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, composed mainly of the large-scale producers, said the disease has affected the small farmers more because they do not have the technical capability to control it nor do they have many alternative planting sites.

In the case of big banana growers, Mr. Antig explained, they can afford to uproot farm clusters infected with the disease and thus control its spread.