'Panama disease' outbreak reported

'Panama disease' outbreak reported

2,000-rai plantation in Chiang Rai at risk

Banana plantation. (Bangkok Post file photo)
Banana plantation. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The Department of Agriculture has dispatched officials to inspect a large banana plantation in Chiang Rai province after a report of an outbreak of Panama disease, which is known to rip through plantations causing significant damage.

A well-placed source who insisted on anonymity told the Bangkok Post that officials are destroying infected banana trees in a bid to contain the disease.

The plantation is located on 2,000 rai in Phaya Mengrai district.

"We cannot confirm whether it is Panama disease, but it has never occurred in Thailand before," the source said.

"One thing that is clear is that the company illegally imported cuttings to be planted in this country," she said, adding that the disease right now is limited to that plantation only.

The department has just taken samples from the infected trees for testing and the analysis will be completed within a week.

"If it is Panama disease as feared, the department will announce the area as an outbreak control zone and all plant movement and transportation must be stopped," said the same source.

The source reiterated that only one plantation was involved and that the disease could only have come from infected cuttings imported from overseas, not from excessive chemical use.

The latest moves come after earlier, less specific and unconfirmed reports emerged of serious banana diseases on other mega banana plantations in the province.

Witoon Lianchamroon, head of Biothai, a conservation group on sustainable agriculture warned that one of the first recorded outbreaks of Panama disease in the 1950s nearly wiped out the Gros Michel variety of banana altogether.

He also warned that the overuse of chemical pesticides can leave various crops liable to developing resistance to their protective effect -- making the crops more prone to outbreaks of disease.

The Phaya Mengrai district plantation first made the news about three years ago regarding a conflict with local residents over environmental concerns.

In 2016, locals lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission alleging that the plantation -- a joint investment between Thai and Chinese companies -- was illegally discharging chemicals into a public waterway.

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