By Luis Jaime Acosta
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia, the world's fourth-largest banana exporter, has maintained production and exports of the yellow fruit to its largest buyers, despite the twin threats of coronavirus and dangerous fungus Fusarium R4T, an industry leader said Friday.
Fungus fusarium tropical type 4, cause of the so-called Panama disease, or wilt, which attacks banana varieties including the Cavendish and the plantain, was detected last July in the northern La Guajira province, where 190 hectares (470 acres) of the fruit were eradicated.
The outbreak forced producers to implement strict controls to stop the fungus from moving to other banana crops.
"The banana industry is the only agricultural sector struck by two outbreaks at once. One pandemic is called fusarium tropical type 4 and the other is called coronavirus," Colombian Banana Growers Association President Emerson Aguirre told Reuters in a virtual interview.
Ten workers in the northeast of the country have been infected by coronavirus despite safety measures. Colombia has reported more than 106,000 cases of coronavirus and 3,641 deaths since its arrival in the South American country in March.
The industry has fulfilled its commercial contracts in spite of the two outbreaks, Aguirre said.
Colombia, which follows Ecuador, the Philippines and Costa Rica in banana exports, exported 100.2 million boxes of the fruit in 2019, down 1.2% on 2018 levels due to lower production caused by drought.
Exports in 2019 were worth a total of $852.8 million, down 1.8% on the previous year. Colombia has 51,227 hectares of banana crops and the principle export destinations are the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The challenge in 2020 is to maintain production and exports at similar levels to last year, Aguirre added.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Daniel Wallis)