Colombia learns from QLD Panama TR4 experience

By Richard Dinnen, Biosecurity Queensland 

When Panama disease tropical race four (Panama TR4) was first detected in Queensland in 2015, industry and government asked the international community for guidance. Now, overseas growers are turning to Queensland for help. 

The success of Queensland’s Panama TR4 Program has drawn international attention, with overseas
biosecurity agencies keen to know how growers, industry and government have combined to contain
the disease to just four farms in five years Colombia declared a national emergency when Panama TR4 was detected there last year.

The Colombian government invited Queensland’s Panama TR4 Program Leader, Rhiannon Evans to visit and share experience and expertise. Her visit followed a fact-finding trip by Colombian officials to Far North Queensland last August.

“There were many similarities with the Queensland experience,” Ms Evans said.

“I got plenty of questions wherever I went, and they were very much like the ones Queensland was asking the international banana community in 2015.

“There were levels of concern, fear, and a real thirst for knowledge.”

Ms Evans met government officials, industry representatives and banana growers in Bogota, Medellin, and Santa Marta.

She visited banana farms, assessing on-site biosecurity measures, and went to the site of a Panama TR4 infestation to talk about containment strategies with local biosecurity officers.

Colombia is one of the world’s biggest banana exporters, shipping 800,000 tonnes in 2018 – nearly twice Australia’s production total.

Ms Evans said Colombia grows top quality fruit for export to Europe, but production methods are very
different to Queensland.

“In Queensland, there’s a lot more mechanical processes and machinery in harvesting and processing.

“In Colombia, they don’t necessarily plant in rows, they plant in triangle-shaped clusters, which allows
best use of fertiliser.

“But it also enables root-to-root contact, which is very risky for Panama TR4,” Ms Evans said.

The Colombian banana industry is a major source of income, employment, and food.

Latin America has long been on the front line of efforts to fight this fungal banana disease, found in
the region about 70 years ago. Ms Evans said Colombia has responded promptly to the discovery of Panama TR4.

“It was clear when I arrived that a lot of actions had been taken in response to the detection of the

“There have been some very clear responses to implementing biosecurity practices, controlling movement of people, vehicles and machinery.

“Colombia has a very strong banana industry, with several industry representative groups. Those groups have their own researchers and scientists, and some funding to respond to Panama TR4,” she

Ms Evans feels there is much to learn from Queensland’s experience of the disease.

“We have been very fortunate to have recognised the disease so early, and that’s really evidenced by
its limited spread after five years.

“We had very strong regulation. We had a very cohesive industry, and the scientific support to do the research for us.

“We were very fortunate here in Queensland, with these three elements able to influence our success.”

Ms Evans has been asked to do online presentations about Queensland’s Panama experience for other Latin American nations in the coming weeks.

Ms Evans said international relationships will be crucial in long-term global efforts to fight Panama TR4.

“It was good to be able to confirm what Queensland has done was the right thing to do.

“The banana industry is so big in Latin America, and they’re determined to find answers to Panama TR4.

“You never stop learning with this disease, and there are still so many unanswered questions. We’ve got to work together and share what we learn,” Ms Evans said.

Ms Evans travelled to Colombia as a guest of the Colombian Government.