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PodcastJanuary 30, 2023

Bananas and Blight | Trade Tips Podcast

FEATURING: Gladys Tazan, manager of banana farm: Jacaranda, Mozambique/Diane Mostert and Altus Viljoen, University of Stellenbosch/Shane Sela, Senior Trade Facilitation Specialist (SPS), World Bank Group.

Use the following clickable timestamps to listen to the podcast.

[00:01] Welcome and Introduction

[01:22] Bananas and blight: The history of the disease

[02:53] The impact on a banana farm in Mozambique

[06:27] Banana blight and global trade: The perspective from South Africa

[07:49] How measures at borders can keep the disease out of new countries

[09:28] To Washington, DC to find out more

[09:43] What does SPS mean?

[10:43] How climate change has impacted SPS issues

[11:17] Fall armyworm

[12:32] Balancing trade and risk

[12:56] Closing and thanks for listening!

In this episode of the World Bank Group's Trade Tips podcast, we learn why the world's most popular fruit is facing a devastating disease, and how diseases can be prevented from spreading across borders.

We hear from a trader in Mozambique and academics in South Africa about the challenges, and from the World Bank Group's Shane Sela, on possible solutions.

Listen now! Subscribe for free on your favorite platform. 


Featured Voices

Trade, Development, Mozambique, South Africa, banana, SPS, World Bank


[00:01] Sarah Treanor: Hello and welcome to Trade Tips from the World Bank Group. I'm Sarah Treanor. This is the podcast that tackles some of the big issues in the world of trade and explores the solutions. In this episode, bananas and blight. Why the world's most popular fruit is facing a devastating disease. Some are even cautioning the end of bananas as we know them.

Altus Viljoen: It is just incredible how these diseases come into Africa, the Middle East, Latin America. So it is happening and it's usually because of human mistake.

Shane Sela: And it's preventing these organisms from moving across borders that's so important.

Gladys Tazan: They fought with the disease and they lost the farm.

Sarah Treanor: We explore why banana exports are so important for many economies, and why border policies and measures to prevent the spread of disease are crucial to this, and so many other exports around the globe. We hear from Mozambique, South Africa and from the World Bank in Washington, DC. That's all coming up on the podcast.

Montage: Trade tips, trade tips, trade tips.

Music: We have no bananas.

[01:22] Sarah Treanor: Bananas. The world's most exported fruits. A staple crop for many countries across parts of Asia, Central America and Africa. Bananas went from being a luxury good in the US in Europe throughout much of the early 20th century, to becoming a fruit bowl staple. Bananas are a phenomenal success story, and the global trade in bananas is worth in the tens of billions employing millions at every stage of the supply chain. However, to satisfy the appetite of global consumers who prefer a uniform looking yellow skin, smooth banana on the supermarket shelf, almost all banana exports are the Cavendish variety and growing only one type of fruit can make it easy for disease to spread. Now, before the Cavendish, the main banana export to high income countries used to be the Gross Michelle. But by the 1-9-2-0s, a strain of fusarium fungus called tropical race one (TR1), which causes Panama disease, started wiping out plantations at an astonishing rate. So in the 1-9-5-0s, we saw the introduction of the TR1 resistant Cavendish. So far so good. Well, unfortunately, a new strain TR4 is spreading fast, including to Mozambique, where we'll head now.

Music: We have no bananas today.

[02:53] Gladys Tazan: I will walk now here through a path in the farm. Hi Sarah. My name is Gladys Tazan. I am originally from Ecuador, but for 12 years now working here in Northern Mozambique for the company, Jacaranda Monapo. I am located in the Nampula province and I am the general manager for this farm. So, we are in the peak of the dry season waiting for rain.

Sarah Treanor: I ask Gladys to explain to me how important banana production is in this area of Mozambique.

Gladys Tazan: Yes, the normal production of the traditional smallholders, they're surviving with the corn casava and some rainfed crops that they can only develop during the rain. The rest of the year, they don't have any other income. Bananas is a production that you need people all year round. We have a thousand employees, one employee has around seven family members here in this country. So the impact is huge. This farm, we have nine communities and the only work that they can have throughout the year is the bananas.

Sarah Treanor: So what about this farm and Panama disease: TR4? Gladys explains the threat.

Gladys Tazan: We are facing the disease here of fusarium tropical race four, which was introduced in 2013 at this farm with the previous owner called Matanuska. They fought with the disease for four years, and in 2018 they declared a ban. They lost the farm. Basically, we took the farm over and from then we have rehabilitated the farm.

Sarah Treanor: So, Gladys and her colleagues have turned around this farm. What kinds of measures have helped keep the fungus out?

Gladys Tazan: Your security measures apply where completely fencing one unique entrance to quarantine farm. So nobody can come in into the farm without changing boots. Inside the farm, we can only use our internal vehicles. After from 2-0-1-9 till now, using the tolerant variety for TR4 and working with the soil we have rehabilitated farm. We are in full production now. Our target will be around 200 tons per week.

Sarah Treanor: Gladys says the farm has actually paused exports due to ongoing supply chain issues and scarcity of shipping routes, but they hope to ramp that up again.

Gladys Tazan: We export it in reefer (refrigerated) containers and the fruit is washed. TR4 is a fungus for the soil. So, all of the fruit that we export is from healthy plants. And we wash it in our packing houses and put it in directly in boxes, carton boxes, in reefer containers. And the reefer containers were washed at the entrance of the farm with chemicals for disinfection.

[06:27] Sarah Treanor: So, that's one incredible story of how a farm went from bankrupt to profitable, again through strict protocols. Let's head to South Africa now for more context on the banana blight and global trade.

Altus Viljoen: I'm Altus Viljoen.

Diane Mostert: And I'm Diane Mostert.

Altus Viljoen: And we are both from Stellenbosch University, which is about 50 kilometers from Cape Town.

Sarah Treanor: So we see headlines about a banana apocalypse. Are they accurate? How serious is the disease?

Altus Viljoen: It's a serious disease. Make no mistake. We have seen big plantations of one thousand 500 hectares being destroyed within four years. The economic impact and the impact on job losses is just tremendous. So if this disease is moving into plantations where you have susceptible bananas and resistant and susceptible bananas. But if it's susceptible like the Cavendish, then it can cause disaster. And the problem is that you cannot eradicate this pathogen because it lives in the soil and it can survive for many decades in the soil afterwards. So if you go to Latin America, if it goes into those monoculture plantations, it can cause a disaster and it will affect the country's economies. And if you bring it into Africa, those are small scale growers that cannot protect themselves. So certainly it might threaten livelihoods.

[07:49] Sarah Treanor: So what about measures at borders, for example, to keep the disease out of new countries?

Altus Viljoen: While there are limited ways that you can introduce it, it is just incredible how this disease has come into Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. So it is happening and it's usually because of human mistake. So procedures at border posts are very, very important, but it's not easy to stop this disease from spreading.

Diane Mostert: I think the golden standard really is the Australian biosecurity system. In the project that we are involved in right now where we're trying to look at what we can do in small scale biosecurity systems is basically we are coupled with them because there's such a golden standard of a system to prevent pathogens of biosecurity concern. I mean, it's both that they have so much capacity to deal with such pathogens and pastes, and also all of their expertise, and then the amount of money that they've invested. And I think it's not really a reality - that type of response - is not really a reality that we can directly apply in Africa, where governments just don't have that amount of money to invest and the capacity available.

Altus Viljoen: And maybe Sarah, at this stage, I have to tell you that we are fortunate that it hasn't spread outside Northern Mozambique yet. But once it does, it can be disastrous. Treat anything or to try to stop the disease from spreading is going to be a very tough task for us.

[09:28] Sarah Treanor: Thanks, both. Fascinating insights. So that's the banana, but what about everything else? Let's head to Washington, DC to find out.

Shane Sela: Okay so I'm Shane Sela. I'm an SPS specialist working for the World Bank.

[09:43] Sarah Treanor: Shane, what does SPS mean?

Shane Sela: SPS relates to sanitary and phytosanitary measures. People are usually familiar with the border agent who ask them about whether they're bringing apples or meat products or cheese or something like that when they're coming into a new country. That's really all about SPS. SPS is intended to prevent the movement of pests and diseases and things that affect human health.

Sarah Treanor: But we're not just talking about diseases that impact crops are we?

Shane Sela: Some diseases of animals can spread to humans. And so these zoonotics, as they're called, are a very serious concern. And covid is kind of an example of one where the likelihood is that it originated in animals and then spread to humans. It's preventing these organisms from moving across borders that's so important.

[10:43] Sarah Treanor: Shane says that interestingly, climate change has made threats from SPS issues really urgent and even harder to predict.

Shane Sela: As time has gone by, the changes in climate also provide an environment which is now more adapted to certain organisms becoming more established. We look at the movement of, let's say organisms in Africa, where the ability for organisms to become well established and expand has changed quite dramatically, let's say in the last 20 years.

[11:17] Sarah Treanor: One example, says Shane, is something called fall armyworm.

Shane Sela: It's the kind of a classic example now.

Sarah Treanor: So explain that disease Shane.

Shane Sela: So, it's basically a caterpillar and it eats corn or maize. And maize is a huge, huge staple in Africa. And so production of maize is critically important, so it's a real threat to food security in Africa. But its expansion has also now expanded across a number of countries in South Asia as well. Once a benign pest is now occurring across many, many ranges, climate change brings a significant level of uncertainty. And so for most SPS agencies, the challenge is to factor in that uncertainty and to make decisions based upon it. This is even more exacerbated by the fact that in developing countries, the capacities and the resources available to undertake complex assessments of what could potentially happen when an organism crosses a border is that much harder. And so it makes it even more challenging for countries to actually be on the forefront of that.

[12:32] Sarah Treanor: So it's a tricky balance then. Trade is good for economies. We want trade, but countries need to manage the risk.

Shane Sela: The WTO SPS Agreement and the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, all encourage facilitating trade while ensuring that you're protecting your country from the pests and diseases that occur. And so it is a tricky balance.

[12:56] Sarah Treanor: I'm not sure I'll be able to take my shop-bought bananas for granted in the same way after that. That's all from this episode of Trade Tips from the World Bank Group. I'm Sarah Treanor. Do you check out more of our podcast. We have some great stories to tell you from an exploration of trade and climate, why technology matters, and what we can all learn about trade facilitation from Caribbean rum cake. Join us again soon.


Presenter and Producer: Sarah Treanor

Executive Producer: Marisa Zawacki



This podcast was created by the World Bank Group with funding from the Trade Facilitation Support Program (TFSP). The TFSP is funded by nine donor partners: Australia, Canada, the European Commission, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. This initiative provides assistance to countries seeking to align their trade practices with the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement (WTO TFA).




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