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Planter benefits from resistant banana variety


By Zac B. Sarian

  • BIG BUNCH OF RESISTANT 218 VARIETY – Jonas Mauro and his wife Rose, a medical doctor, inspect the big bunch of Variety 218 in their farm in Davao City which has been found to be resistant to the Fusarium wilt or Panama wilt disease which has affected some Cavendish banana plantations in Mindanao. The variety is a Giant Cavendish Tissue Culture Variant (GCTCV) from Taiwan which was brought to the Philippines through the initiative of Dr. Agustin Molina of Bioversity International. The variety is from the Taiwan Banana Research Institute.

  • MRS. EMERITA MAURO poses with a big bunch of the 218 variety that is resistant to Fusarium wilt. Her son Jonas is managing a plantation with 20,000 fruiting plants that were planted in 2016. In 2015, the area planted to the Williams Tall Cavendish was totally wiped out by the Fusarium disease. Today, the same area is a productive plantation of the resistant variety.

  • BIG BANANA BLOSSOM – Dr. Agustin Molina and Jonas Mauro inspect the Variety 218 with big banana blossom at the latter’s banana plantation in Cxalinan, DavaoCity. The resistant variety has proven to be a big savior of small banana planters like Jonas. Dr. Molina admits that Variety 218 is not perfect. A small percentage is still infected by the disease but is tolerable.

  • MOTHER PLANT FOR TISSUE CULTURE – Dr. Agustin Molina shows an ideal sucker of a selected plant of the resistant Variety 218 suitable for tissue-culturing at the Mauro Farm in Calinan, Davao City. This particular plant has fat trunk and is low growing. Jonas Mauro will shortly put up his own tissue culture laboratory to produce plants for sale to other smallhold banana farmers in Mindanao.

  • PLANTATION OF HEALTHY BANANA PLANTS – This is a view of the Mauro Farm in Calinan,Davao City planted to the resistant 218 Variety. In 2016. The place was previously planted to the old Tall Williams variety of Cavendish which was wiped out by the Fusarium disease Tropical Race 4. Thanks to the resistant 218 Variety, the farm has become productive. Each bunch avarages 1.8 boxes of fruits worth about R300 pesos.

  • BROILERS FOR MEAT AND MANURE – Jonas Mauro is raising 10,000 broilers in another farm not only for the meat but also for the manure. He collects the manure which he spreads in his banana plantation. The chickens are harvested at 26 days from hatching. By that time the birds already weigh more than a kilo. The chickens in photo are two weeks old.

  • TISSUE-CULTURED RESISTANT 218 VARIETY – Dr. Emily Fabregar and Dr. Agustin Molina show off a healthy young tissue-cultured resistant variety. Dr. Fabregar is a tissue-culture expert of Lapanday, a big player in the banana industry. The company was the first to collaborate with Dr. Molina to test the variant varieties introduced from Taiwan and was also the first to tissue-culture the variety in big volume. The Department of Agriculture has placed an order for 1.3 million tissue cultured planting materials which it will distribute to smallhold banana farmers in Mindanao. Because the big plantations are producing tissue-cultured planting mateials for their own expansion, there is need for smaller private tissue-culture laboratories that will cater to the smallhold banana farmers.

    These days, Jonas Mauro is a happy smallhold banana planter in Calinan, Davao City. Who wouldn’t be? His banana farm which was wiped out by the destructive Fusarium wilt disease (Tropical Race 4 or TR4) in 2014 has now become productive and profitable.

    He currently harvests from 20,000 plants of the Variety 218, one of the Giant Cavendish Tissue Culture Variants (GCTCV) from Taiwan which was introduced for testing and possible adoption in the Philippines by Dr. Agustin Molina of Bioversity International. What prompted Dr. Molina to take action was the incidence of the so-called virulent TR4 which had earlier devastated banana plantations in Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Australia and elsewhere.

    Of the 20,000 Variety 218 that he planted in 2016, about five percent were affected by the disease but that is insignificant. Even a 10 percent infection would be still manageable, according to Mauro. He is determined to plant the resistant variety on a 20-hectare farm that his late father bought. He hopes he would be able to have a share of the 1.3 million tissue-culture seedlings that the Department of Agriculture has ordered from Lapanday Food which is the pioneer in multiplying 218 in collaboration with Dr. Molina.

    But he is going to do something more than waiting for the government allocation. He will soon put up a tissue culture laboratory of his own. He will not only produce planting materials for himself but for the hundreds of small farmers and independent growers who don’t have their own laboratories. The multinational companies could not be expected to produce planting materials for other growers for the moment because they are in expansion mode.

    Mauro is now tagging indivicual banana plants in his farm as possible mother plants or source of tissue for culturing in the laboratory. He is particularly interested in plants that have big trunk, relatively low growing and with big bunch.

    Variety 218 is not only moderately resistant to the Fusarium wilt  disease, it is also competitive  with the standard vavieties in terms of eating quality, yield, acceptability in the world market, and other desirable characteristics. According to Dr. Molina who has observed the performance of the variety in other farms, one bunch yields about 1.8 boxes of 13.5 kilos each. That’s not far behind the yield of the Gran Naine and Williams varieties of Cavendish. And because the fingers are arranged in much the same way as the old varieties, 218 fruits can be packed with the standard varieties at the same time in the standard cartons.

    Although there are still infections in Variety 218, Dr. Molina says that it is the best alternative that the farmers can take now. There is no such thing as a perfect variety. As of now, the big companies like Dole, Lapanday, Del Monte, Tadeco and others have adopted the new variety for planting in areas known to have infections and even in non-infected areas. Dr. Molina estimates that no less than 8 million tissue cultured planting materials have been produced by the big companies and the production is continuing.

    Mauro meanwhile is very optimistic about the future of banana production with the coming of 218. He has no problem marketing his harvest because a big producer-exporter is buying all his production. He is hopeful that he will not only make money from the fruits but also from the tissue-cultured planting materials he will produce soon.

    He is also taking care of 10,000 broilers in another farm as another source of income. He says he can make 7 cycles in one year. He raises his chickens not only for their meat but also for their manure which he uses to fertilize his banana plantation. His wife Rose who is a medical doctor and his mother Emerita, a Los Baños graduate who worked with the Development Bank of the Philippines, are very supportive of his agricultural pursuits.

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