By Dr Rosie Godwin
The National Banana Freckle Eradication program (NBFEP) recently entered the final phase of the eradication program: Phase four – Assessment of proof of freedom.
Banana Freckle (Phyllosticta cavendishii) was detected in Northern Territory (NT) in 2013 and the current national response program has been in progress since October 2014.
Phase One involved the destruction of 500,000 plants from 9,500 properties within prescribed zones. This was followed by Phase Two the host free period, Phase Three involved the controlled reintroduction of banana hosts (sentinel plants) under permit and ongoing monitoring over 12 months. To date there have been no further detections of banana freckle.
Phase Four began in May this year and is aimed at providing a statistically high level of confidence that banana freckle has successfully been eradicated from the NT. It will involve additional monitoring until April 2018 including additional inspections conducted during the next wet season on more than 300 properties that were either previously infected with banana freckle or in close proximity to infested farms.
If there are no further detections of the disease during this time Australia will be able to prepare a case to declare that it is free of Banana Freckle.
In July 2017, the NT abolished quarantine zones and lifted internal movement controls so people are able to purchase, grow, move and sell banana plants within the NT. However, the Australian Banana Growers’ Council (ABGC) and NBFEP recommend that people should continue to use good biosecurity practises including using certified clean planting material and avoiding the unnecessary movement or sharing of plants. Interstate movement and access restrictions however are still in place and require a permit.
The response which is estimated to cost $26 million has been of major importance to the protection of Australia’s $600 million commercial banana industry and people whose livelihoods depend upon it.
The eradication program has involved a considerable effort and support from the NT which has lead the program as well as the national industry who are contributing around 50 per cent of the shared cost of the program.
The Freckle Eradication Program remains on track to achieve eradication in 2017/18. Collection of the Emergency Plant Pest Response (EPPR) levy which is funding the Banana industry’s contribution to the Eradication Response since 2015 will cease when no longer required. This is estimated to be at the end of 2020.
Good biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility so banana growers, householders and banana production nurseries, especially in northern Australia, are reminded to check their banana plants and report any signs of banana freckle to the Exotic Plant Pest Hotline on 1800 084 881. If you live in the Northern Territory, you can call the Banana Freckle Hotline on 1800 771 163.