A banana disease on the march in South East Asia does not pose an immediate threat to UK banana supply and prices, but all parts of the supply chain need to step up vigilance and resources to keep it at bay, banana experts have warned.

Growers in South East Asia are increasingly struggling with a new strain of Panama disease, called Tropical Race 4 (TR4), which has now spread to Jordan in the Middle East, according to new findings by scientists at the University of Wageningen. “This means that Panama disease is becoming increasingly widespread, and major banana-producing countries in Africa and Latin America are also under threat,” the scientists warned. “A concerted international approach is now needed to prevent the spread of Panama disease and, in the worst-case scenario, contain it.”

A previous strain of Panama disease destroyed numerous plantations in Latin America during the 20th century, but its spread was halted by the introduction of the Cavendish cultivar, which was resistant to it. However, Cavendish is not resistant to TR4, and there is currently no way to protect banana plants from the disease.

A spokesman for Fyffes stressed producers were able to better manage Panama disease than in the past. He added that the vast bulk of bananas sourced by Fyffes came from Latin and Central America, with only a small amount from Africa. “While we continue to monitor the situation, as of yet we do not foresee any serious impact for UK suppliers.”

Silvia Campos Malpartida, global product manager for bananas for Fairtrade International, agreed there was no urgent threat to banana supplies to the UK, but called on retailers to put up money for research into the disease. “Fairtrade is advocating for active support from UK traders and supermarkets,” she added.