Global G.A.P. joins the fight against Banana Fusarium wilt

Have you ever wondered about the stickers on your bananas? You might recognize some of these:

Probably the most famous banana sticker is Miss Chiquita. Chiquita – then called United Fruits Company – invented Miss Chiquita in 1944. They were the first company to give a name to an agricultural product. In the early banana-sticker days, Miss Chiquita was an animated banana – drawn by the creator of Hägar the Horrible – who informed people about the fruit’s nutritional value. In 1963, someone came up with the idea of attaching little stickers with Miss Chiquita directly on the bananas. This is how the fruit whole sticker business started.

Today, each major banana brand (Chiquita, Dole, Fyffes) has their own sticker. In addition, various NGOs put stickers  on bananas to indicate that these bananas have been produced on farms that meet certain social or environmental standards (e.g. Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Organic).

The world’s most widely implemented farm certification scheme does not put stickers on their bananas! They are called GLOBALG.A.P..

GLOBALG.A.P. was founded as a retailer initiative in the late 1990s. By that time consumers demanded that certain standards were met for agricultural production, for example the impact of the environment or health and safety of agricultural workers. GLOBALG.A.P. was founded to harmonize the different standards that retailers (i.e. supermarkets) demanded from their producers. G.A.P. stands for Good Agriculture Practice, GLOBAL for its worldwide scale.

Today, GLOBALG.A.P. joined the fight against Fusarium Wilt of banana!

Or better said, they joined the fight against TR4, the aggressive fungal clone that is causing Fusarium Wilt disease of the most popular banana cultivar – the Cavendish. Since last year, I am a member of the TR4 Task Force  of the World Banana Forum. The World Banana Forum is a permanent assembly space for representatives of the global banana supply-chain. Its mission is to promote sustainable banana production and trade by involving producers, trade unions, cooperatives, retailers, governments, research institutions and civil society organizations. Due to the work of the TR4 Task Force and newspaper articles about “Banana-geddon”, retailers became concerned about the potential spread of TR4 – in particular the potential spread to banana plantations in Middle America where most of the Cavendish bananas are grown that are later sold in European and US supermarkets.

So, what will GLOBALG.A.P. do? Last week they took the initiative to raise awareness to this banana Fusarium Wilt by introducing a TR4 add-on to their standard for banana producers. To comply with the TR4 add-on, farm managers on GLOBALG.A.P.-certified farms have to demonstrate that they:

  • Inform all people present on the farm (management, employees, relatives living on farm) about the Fusarium pathogen and its presence in soil, water, plant tissue (incl. other hosts e.g. weeds).
  • Implement prevention measures demanded by national legislation (if there is any).
  • Provide training for workers to prevent risk of receiving or spreading the pathogen according to their task, e.g. field workers through mud/soil, packing house workers through contaminated water.
  • Inform people transiting the farm like visitors and external service providers (energy/telephone/water service providers, extension service) about biosecurity measures.
  • Register all people and machinery entering the farm at designated farm access points.
  • Decontaminate vehicles and farm machinery from all soil/dust/mud and plant tissue.
  • Use only pathogen-free planting material from accredited labs or disease-free nurseries.
  • Prevent unnecessary soil movement.
  • Identify source of risks like roads, towns, rivers, flooding and provide a risk assessment (flooding of rivers, drainages, ditches…).
  • Regularly monitor banana plants for Fusarium wilt symptoms by trained staff.
  • Minimize movement of pathogen, coordinate with local authorities, record strategy and effort, control water and soil movement (only if pathogen in farm).

Since, TR4 has not yet arrived in Middle America, the add-on is mainly a tool to globally raise awareness for Fusarium Wilt and to prevent its spread if it should be introduced. As such, it is a powerful way of “Prevention is better than cure”.

Me at the steering committee meeting of the World Banana Forum in Rome in 2016.