Innoterra India & ICAR partner to save bananas from the deadly panama wilt disease

FUSICONT, a biopesticide solution that battles Panama Wilt disease affecting Cavendish bananas globally, can reduce up to 90% production losses and help save the livelihoods of thousands of farmers
Innoterra India Announces Strategic Partnership with ICAR to Save Bananas from the Deadly Panama Wilt Disease

Innoterra India Announces Strategic Partnership with ICAR to Save Bananas from the Deadly Panama Wilt Disease

Photo - Innoterra

Innoterra India, one of India's largest fruit producers and exporters through its business unit Desai AgriFoods, has signed a global partnership agreement with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) to develop a biopesticide against Fusarium wilt, popularly known as Panama disease. The biopesticide, called FUSICONT, is based on a novel technology that directly targets the deadly fungal disease currently responsible for destroying millions of tons of banana crops worldwide. The partnership is the first of its kind in India to battle the disease.

The 'Cavendish' cultivar accounts for 99% of all bananas shipped from India to multiple export destinations, and it is a crucial part of the US $ 40 billion global banana industry. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Tropical Race 4 (TR4) variant of the disease is the most destructive of all banana plant diseases, with the current strain threatening the Cavendish banana's extinction. TR4 strain does affect other varieties of bananas as well, many of which are the primary food source in countries worldwide. Currently, there is no viable solution for the disease globally, which makes it a potent threat to not only the crops but also farmers' livelihood depending solely on the cultivation of bananas.

The FUSICONT biopesticide is a groundbreaking solution that claims effectiveness against the TR4 strain of the Panama disease. The solution is developed in India by ICAR and has proven effective against TR4 in the early-stage trials. Innoterra's partnership with ICAR for their technology will be followed by extensive field trials and testing the solution's effectiveness at the farm level globally.

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Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, secretary, Department of Agricultural Research (DARE) and director General of ICAR and Dr Sudha Mysore, chief executive officer of Agrinnovate have been the guiding forces for this partnership. Speaking at the event, Dr Mohapatra stated, "ICAR and Agrinnovate are proud of Innoterra's vision and efforts to be at the forefront of ushering farmers sustenance and commercialize innovation led technology for mitigating impact of climate change especially control of pest pandemic in Banana globally. This is an excellent example of the public-private-farmer partnership model."

Dr Mysore urged all stakeholders to collaborate with Innoterra and bolster the mandate of make-in-India and Aatmanirbhar Bharat.

Dr T Damodaran, head of Central Soil Salinity Research Institute (CSSRI, RRS) and Dr S Rajan, director of Central Institute of Sub-tropical Horticulture (CISH), led the development of the FUSICONT solution, are veteran experts of banana cultivation at ICAR. Speaking about the development, Dr Damodaran said, "We are extremely pleased to be partnering with Innoterra, a leader in fruit production and exports. Innoterra is one of the first organizations in India to take the initiative in fighting Panama disease globally to maintain the health and sustainability of Cavendish bananas. We look forward to advancing the FUSICONT biopesticide technology and developing a viable, long-term solution to the severe threat posed by the TR4 strain of Panama disease."

Since 2010, TR4 has spread to major countries around the world. Due to limited knowledge and lack of management models and resources to fight this disease, it is becoming an increasing concern in India and worldwide. Innoterra's strategy is developing comprehensive solutions that achieve complete plant health rather than just the containment of spread.

Dr Anup Karwa, head of Operations, India Crops division for Innoterra, commented, "Innoterra is glad to be the first-mover in partnering with ICAR for FUSICONT and conducting planned trials at our farms across South Asia– a cost-effective and scalable solution against TR4 is in the interest of the global farming community, especially small- and mid-holder farmers who are severely affected by this disease today. We expect to curb production losses up to 90% with FUSICONT, helping our farmers increase the yield and maintain the quality of banana crops consistently over the years. The biopesticide has shown promising results in ICAR's large scale validation in hotspots of India and has proven to be a sustainable solution for the environment."

The development and mass adoption of this biopesticide will save the livelihoods of thousands of banana farmers affected by crop loss on account of the Panama wilt disease year after year. FUSICONT is in the advanced stages of commercialization and has also received regulatory approval from Central Insecticide Board (CIB), Government of India.

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