Durban - The UN warned of the potential “mass destruction” of the world’s $5-billion (R52.5bn) a year banana crop as a plant disease spreads to Africa and the Middle East.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organisation said the TR4 strain of Panama disease, which has hit tens of thousands of hectares in south-east Asia, had been reported in Jordan and Mozambique.

Altus Viljoen, a plant pathologist from Stellenbosch University, who first identified the strain in Mozambique, has issued a contingency plan for the prevention of the disease’s entry and spread in South Africa.

Viljoen said a range of preventative measures should be introduced, including quarantine measures at all ports, that access control to banana farms should be improved and water baths containing disinfects should be built at all farm entrances.

Sandy la Marque, the chief executive of the Kwazulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu), said: “We support any initiatives made by those involved in the banana industry as a matter of urgency.”

The Banana Growers Association of South Africa could not be reached for comment before going to print. estimates the global banana crop is worth around $5bn and more than 100 million tons of bananas are traded every year. – Mercury Reporter and Sapa