Japan has opened its door to a new type of packaged bananas developed by Philippine growers to be resistant to the dreaded Panama disease.
Known to breeders as Giant Cavendish Tissue-Culture Variant (GCTCV-219), the new variety is resistant to Fusarium wilt, more commonly called Panama disease, and could thus be a potential alternative for the commercial Cavendish variety, which is susceptible to the destructive banana disease.
Dr. Agustin Molina of Bioversity International-Asia and the Pacific Office said the new banana variety has gained acceptance in Japan because of the optimization of harvesting time and ripening protocol, innovative 4 to 5 fingers cluster packaging, and improved branding.
For the new variety to be accepted in the Japanese market, some innovations had to be made, Molina said, noting that the Japanese market requires full-hand packaging for which bananas must have compact and uniformly-curved fingers, the characteristics of the commercial Cavendish variety.
Initial observations showed that the GCTCV-219 variety has less uniform hand formation and its fingers are more spread than the commercial Grand Naine Cavendish variety. Hence, a small-cluster packaging for GCTCV-219, containing only about 4−5 fingers per cluster was initiated as a market strategy, giving the new variety a good packaging presentation.
In addition, it received “sweeter” branding as compared to other varieties, allowing it an initial niche share in the Japanese market.
GCTCV-219 is now sold as premium Cavendish banana under the Miyabi brand and tagged as “elegant taste banana” or “sweet banana.”
This endeavor was carried out by the Philippine Fresh Fruits Corporation, owned by Mr. Lucianao Puyod, one of the farmer-cooperators of the Bioversity International-led projects supported by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).
In 2012, the two institutions embarked on two banana projects to provide Cavendish growers an immediate solution to Fusarium wilt that was threatening to wipe out banana plantations. Through the projects, GCTCV-219 was introduced to 20 farmer-cooperators in Davao City, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Compostela Valley, whose farms were totally destroyed by the disease. The growers were given more than 30,000 seedlings for piloting in their farms and many of them have already harvested their crops.
Results of the field trials showed that GCTCV-219 is significantly more resistant to Fusarium wilt than Grand Naine, which was totally destroyed by the disease as early as during the primary cropping in most farms. On the other hand, an average of only 1 percent infection was recorded for GCTCV-219 even after the ratoon or second crop.
The Mauro and Sons Farm in Calinan, Davao has had a successful production of GCTCV-219, the fruits of which are now sold in Japan as sweet banana through a multinational company. Other growers sell their fruits to other markets, such as China.
The GCTCV-219 breed is an enhanced selection of another Fusarium wilt-resistant variety, GCTCV-119, developed and shared by the Taiwan Banana Research Institute. In 2002, a National Repository Multiplication Development Center (NRMDC) was established in UP Los Baños, Laguna through Bioversity International and DA-BAR, to serve as repository for improved banana varieties from different countries that are collaborating with Bioversity International-coordinated Banana Asia Pacific Network (BAPNET), of which the Philippines is a member.
One of the varieties introduced at the NRMDC was the Fusarium wilt-resistant GCTCV-119. Through recurrent selection done in Davao, an improved genotype was developed and eventually called GCTCV-219. Initial evaluation of the varieties was conducted in partnership with the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) and Lapanday Fruits Corporation, a Davao-based commercial banana plantation.
“For now, the variety gives high hopes for the mitigation of this devastating disease threatening the multi-billion peso banana export, an important source of foreign revenue which provides direct livelihood to more than 320,000 people in Mindanao. More than 3,000 hectares have already been reported to be totally devastated by the disease,” Molina said.
While Dr. Molina does not recommend GCTCV-219 as an immediate replacement for the current commercial varieties that are not yet affected by the disease and are still economically grown, the GCTCV-219 variety is a very good option in case the disease becomes out of hand and totally destroys a plantation.
Molina added that as the pathogen stays in the soil for many years, a susceptible variety can no longer become productive, leaving banana growers resorting to lower-income crops like corn.