DOST officials led by Secretary Mario G. Montejo met on December 9 with banana growers and exporters, researchers and heads of local line agencies to discuss the next steps in the ongoing united response against the Panama disease or Fusarium wilt (FW) of banana.
“We acknowledge the urgency of the issue”, said Sec. Montejo as he assured the body of the Department's moves to come up with immediate and long-term S&T-based solutions for the management of the disease. He further shared that the Department is streamlining its processes to shorten its response time.
For instance, approval for a full project proposal may not be needed for release of funds as long as the proposed concept is sound. Also, appropriate S&T-based interventions will be implemented simultaneously in affected areas while the more in-depth R&D will be on-going.
Specifically, the Secretary pushed for the “S&T Intervention in Managing the Fusarium Wilt in Davao”. This R&D program is slated to come up with disease management measures and develop a resistant variety. The DOST’s Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (DOST-PCAARRD) will fund and coordinate the conduct of this program.
First among the proposed projects is the use of biological control agents against Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense, the fungus causing the disease. Among the biocontrol agents to be evaluated are Trichoderma sp., vesicular arbuscular mycorrhiza (VAM) and plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR). In line with this activity, the physico-chemical characteristics of soils will be studied to determine why some soils seem to suppress the disease.
The project will also work on developing varieties that are resistant, locally-adapted and approximate the fruit quality of the prevailing Cavendish varieties. The Secretary hoped to enlist the assistance of the Taiwanese government in obtaining germplasm for this purpose.
For its part,the Department of Agriculture XI organized Task Force Fusarium to push local quarantine ordinances and promote the disease management protocol. Currently, several towns have adopted policies to restrict the movement of planting material in infected areas. Together with the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), they are promoting the disease management protocol through development and distribution of information materials, and through protocol briefings.
NEDA XI Director Ma. Lourdes D. Lim, who chairs the Regional R&D Coordinating Council of the Southern Mindanao Agriculture and Resources R&D Consortium (SMARRDEC), welcomed the DOST's proposed moves. As chair also of the Regional Development Council, she put the full force of the various members behind the common initiative. Incidentally, NEDA XI and DA RFU XI are members of SMARRDEC, one the regional R&D councils of DOST-PCAARRD.
As a result, stakeholders will develop a unified action plan to incorporate all the individual actions and to fine tune the proposal developed by the SMARRDEC member-agencies. On this upbeat note, DOST-PCAARRD Executive Director Patricio S. Faylon closed discussion by stressing PCAARRD's role in using S&T to enhance the needed interventions and in sharing the fund burden for the conduct of R&D and other activities towards development of disease management strategies. Lily Ann D. Lando, S&T Media Service