Some 430 acres of Colombian bananas infected with fungus

BOGOTA, Aug 8 (Reuters) - A 175-hectare (430-acre) section of Colombia’s banana crop has been contaminated with the fusarium R4T fungus, the national agricultural institute said on Thursday, as it called for a countrywide effort to increase sanitary controls to contain the malady.

The fungus, popularly known as Panama disease, can remain in the soil for up to 30 years by attacking the roots of banana plants, which are Colombia’s third-largest agriculture export after coffee and flowers.

“We have received confirmation of the presence in Colombia of the fungus fusarium tropical type 4, which is the causal agent for the wilt in 175 hectares planted with banana,” institute director Deyanira Barrero told Reuters.

The disease will not affect Colombian banana exports, Barrero said, adding that other countries where the disease has been detected have continued shipments abroad. The fungus is not harmful to humans.

Some 168 hectares of the infected crop in northeastern La Guajira province have already been preventively eradicated, she added, and experts are evaluating whether to plant varieties resistant to the fungus.

The wilt was first detected in July in the province near the border with Venezuela.

In 2016, Colombia expressed concern about the possible arrival of the fungus because of illegal migration of people from Asia and Africa, as well as declining sanitary controls in Venezuela.

Colombia is one of the world’s leading banana exporters after Ecuador, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

The Andean country has 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres) of banana plantations that generate about 30,000 direct jobs. It exported more than 100 million boxes of bananas in 2018 worth $859 million, mainly to the European Union and the United States. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Sandra Maler)