KENYA – Kenya, in collaboration with other COMESA countries, conducted its first simulation exercise to boost emergency preparedness for managing pest risks, recognizing the threat’s transboundary nature.

Although Fusarium TR4 has yet to be reported in Kenya, its presence in neighboring countries like the Comoros and Mozambique raises significant concerns.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Paul Rono stressed the urgency during the International Plant Protection Convention simulation exercise on Fusarium TR4.

“We cannot afford to be relaxed when we face a pest that can cause up to 100 percent yield loss in areas of infestation,” Rono emphasized.

Kenya’s tropical climate, compounded by climate change and human activities, heightens the vulnerability to such pests.

Fusarium TR4, identified as a priority pest, demands collective action and preventive measures to curb its spread. Hamisi Williams of FAO Kenya highlighted the importance of exclusion and prevention, noting the technical infeasibility of eradicating the fungus once it is introduced.

Theophilus Mutui, KEPHIS’s Managing Director, emphasized the critical role of phytosanitary measures in protecting Kenya’s economy and food security.

To fortify its defenses against Fusarium TR4, Kenya is enhancing regulatory control systems. This includes rigorous testing of banana planting material before importation and monitoring it in quarantine status.

Mutui underscored the importance of these measures, especially for communities dependent on banana cultivation for sustenance and income.

UK’s battle against Fusarium

Bananas, the world’s most exported fruit, generate around USD10 billion annually in global trade. However, the emergence of Fusarium TR4, a soil-borne fungus, poses a severe risk to banana production worldwide.

This challenge is not unique to Kenya. Earlier this year, the British Onions Producer Association (BOPA) invested GBP 1 million (USD 1.26 million) in a research project aimed at combating Fusarium Basal Rot (FBR) in its onion industry.

The UK, a significant contributor to the global onion market with 500,000 tons produced in 2022, is currently grappling with the devastating impact of FBR, which threatens both pre- and post-harvest stages.

Climate change has compounded this challenge, prompting BOPA to launch a research project named “FUSED: integrated fusarium early diagnostic and management.”

The 24-month project has secured funding from Innovate UK and involves a diverse team of experts. Dr. Andy Gill, General Manager at B-hive Innovations and the project’s lead, explained, “Together, we’re pioneering new methods to assess FBR risk pre-planting, detect infected onions in the field and during harvest, and identify early signs of infection in storage.”

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