BOGOTA (Reuters) – Colombia has put a patch of banana crops in the north of the country under quarantine on suspicion they are infested with a fungus that is seen as potentially devastating to the country’s banana exports, the agriculture minister said on Sunday.
The fusarium R4T fungus causes a malady popularly known as Panama disease and can remain in the soil for up to 30 years by attacking the roots of banana plants, which are Colombia’s third-largest agriculture export after coffee and flowers.
The possible outbreak of the wilt was detected in 150 hectares (371 acres) in the department of La Guajira, in the country’s northeast near the border with Venezuela.
Colombia is one of the world’s leading banana exporters after Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
“It is a fungus that affects banana plantations. It prevents the process of photosynthesis,” Agriculture Minister Andres Valencia told reporters. “We have isolated some farms in the department of La Guajira.”
The Banana Association of Magdalena and La Guajira said fruit exports would not be affected.
“Although we have not yet confirmed it, we issued this alert to strengthen security measures,” said Deyanira Barrero, manager of the Colombian Agricultural Institute, adding that definitive test results were expected in August.
In 2016, Colombia expressed concern about the possible arrival of the fungus because of illegal migration of people from Asia and Africa, as well as declining sanitary controls in Venezuela.
Colombia has 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres) of banana plantations that generate some 30,000 direct jobs. It exported more than 100 million boxes of bananas in 2018 worth $859 million, mainly to the European Union and the United States.
In the middle of the 20th century, several banana strains in Latin America and the Caribbean were infected by fungus and had to be replaced by more resistant strains.
(Reporting by by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Peter Cooney)