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India - Scientists claim to have found a cure for Panama Disease

Scientists from the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) claim to have found a cure for one of the most feared agricultural diseases. The fungal disease Fusarium Wilt  -aka ‘Panama Disease’- afflicts banana plants. For the first time, Indian scientists have brought out a biopesticide that can control the disease. This biopesticide has been made using another fungus.

Panama Disease is so deadly that it is sometimes referred to as ‘banana cancer’. The fungus resides below ground and infects the plant through its roots. The infection then stops water and essential nutrients from being transported to the rest of the plant.

In 2017, a major disease outbreak was reported in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It was then the  ICAR’s Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, along with the National Research Centre for Bananas, Central Institute of Sub-Horticulture, decided to tackle this problem.

It was found that ICAR scientists had already developed a herbicide that was effective for Fusarium Wilt in tomatoes and chillies. The scientists decided that they would modify this formulation to tackle Panama Disease.

In 2018, the field trials of this new bio-fungicide began. It was called ‘ICAR FUSCIONT’ which was made from a novel strain of fungi called ‘Trichoderma EC’.  This fungicide can control the Fusarium fungi from multiplying and affecting the roots. It also adds to the immunity of the banana plant. The fungicide needs to be applied at regular intervals during the crop cycle of the banana plant, which is for 14-16 months.

The results of the experiments have been very encouraging. Many farmers, who Down to Earth spoke with, said this new fungicide has been a god-send. They have seen their banana plantation revive in less than three months.

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