New from France: a fungus-resistant organic banana
by Leo Frühschütz (comments: 0)
From this spring, customers will a find new bright yellow organic banana, in the organic section of the French supermarket chain Carréfour. They are called Pointe d'Or, are grown in the traditional way and are resistant to the Black Sigatoka fungus. They will be available for as long as the 1,000 ton stock lasts. But if customers like the taste of them, there will be significantly more next year.
For the banana export to the industrialised countries, farmers grow mainly the Cavendish variety. It produces high yields, but is susceptible to fungal diseases and is therefore sprayed intensively with pesticides. One of these fungal diseases is the Black Sigatoka fungus that attacks the leaves of the banana plant. Back in 2003, BIO the US lobby organisation, raved about genetically modified Sigatoka-resistant bananas that would soon be on the market, but they are still not on the market today.
Experts from the French research institute CIRAD have not only worked on new varieties together with the growers on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, they have also redeveloped the cultivation system in accordance to agro-ecological factors. The new bananas now grow in mixed cultures, under the shade of trees and without pesticides. For this season, to test the market, they planted and harvested 35 hectares of Pointe d'Or trees. Frédéric Salmon, one of the CIRAD growers is convinced: "With their natural resistance, Pointe d'Or will be the future for the cultivation of organic bananas in French West Indies".
This is also encouraging for the CIRAD growers for their next challenge. A soil fungus abbreviated to TR4 has spread all over Asia, parts of Africa and Central America and is now threatening their banana growers, who supply 80 percent of the world market. The Cavendish variety used is susceptible to the fungus and chemical agents cannot protect them. There are scientists trying to make the Cavendish banana resistant to TR4 using the “gene shear” Crispr/Cas, and then bring the first bananas to the market in 2023. The experts at CIRAD, however, want to get away from the Cavendish monotony. The only way to do this the write, is to increase the genetic diversity of the bananas grown and at the same time change the cultivation systems. To pursue this path, CIRAD wants to establish an international alliance of researchers, cultivators and growers of bananas. A genetic-manipulation-free alliance, as "genetically modified varieties are not accepted on many markets" and new genetic processes would be considered, at least in Europe, to be genetic engineering.
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