High alert: Jamaica prepares as banana disease spreads

Jamaica, and the wider Caribbean, is on high alert as the deadly Tropical Race 4 (TR4) Disease, previously called “Panama Disease”, threatens the local and regional banana and plantain industry.

Approximately 70,000 farmers are employed in banana production. (Photo: JIS)

Jamaica’s Agriculture Minister, Audley Shaw, in an address to Parliament yesterday, said his ministry is taking steps to safeguard the industry. These measures include a ban on the importation of banana, plantains and related fruits.

Stressing that the disease is not present on the island, Shaw said it spreads quickly and through various means.

“The fungus spreads through infected plant materials and infested soil particles attached to any item such as farm tools, shoes, clothes, animals and vehicles. This means that visitors to our shores and, even, we, as residents when we travel, can bring this fungus into Jamaica,” Shaw said, adding “as such, I am urging all visitors and residents to adhere to the guidelines as established by the Plant Quarantine and Produce Inspection Branch of the Ministry.”

Shaw said the industry was valued at J$7.4 billion in 2018. (Photo: JIS)

Further combative actions include the introduction of disinfectant mats at the island’s international airports and cruise ship piers for travellers to sterilise their shoes, and a lab created to conduct early identification of the disease should it enter the country.

“I implore all our farmers and consumers to follow the guidelines laid out as we seek to protect this industry. Protecting our banana and plantain industry from the threat of this deadly disease is everybody’s business and, beginning with a media briefing tomorrow, the Ministry will also embark on an active public awareness programme to engage the nation in preventing its entry into the island,” Shaw said.

The importance of the industry was underscored by the Minister who said it included approximately 70,000 farmers whose production valued J$7.4 billion in 2018, almost J$1.5 billion more than in 2015.

The deadly disease was confirmed in Colombia in August, its first time being seen in this hemisphere. More than 150,000 hectares of bananas and plantains were destroyed in containment efforts there.