Pest and disease prevention in the Torres Strait

ABGC directors Leon Collins and Andrew Serra visited the Torres Strait Islands in recent months to provide grower perspective on a disease prevention project.

Two of the Australian Banana Growers’ Council’s North Queensland directors, Leon Collins and Andrew Serra, recently visited islands in the Torres Strait as part of a disease prevention project funded by the Federal Government with contribution from the ABGC. 

The project was particularly focussed on surveillance for leaf diseases with the Islands obviously in close proximity to the major Australian production areas in Far North Queensland. Mr Collins spent time on Boigu Island, while Mr Serra visited Mer Island, providing industry perspective on the control of disease and sharing their production expertise with local landholders and leaders. 

Mr Serra said his role, in an initial visit early in the year and most recently in June, was to show locals how to look after their banana plants to minimise the impact of disease. 

“I was showing them how to deleaf as that is the only effective control for leaf diseases – that, or get rid of the plant altogether. But that can be sensitive as bananas have been grown on Mer Island for thousands of years. It’s not a new thing – well before European settlement they used to trade the fruit and became known for it.” 

In the Torres Strait, there are no commercial plantations but there are plenty of backyard plantings. “It’s in our industry’s best interest to try and reduce the presence of pests and disease so there’s less risk of them moving to Far North Queensland. 

TR4 should teach us that disease can move around,” Mr Serra added. 

The project, being led by consultant Dr Ron Glanville will produce a report on the way forward later this year. In the meantime, the ABGC Board has resolved to continue the ABGC’s extension role in the region to assist with future containment and prevention measures. Mr Collins said the people on Boigu Island were keen to talk to growers and get hands-on advice. 

“They’re really keen to listen and learn,” he said. “It wouldn’t be hard to control leaf diseases on Boigu, but keeping them out will be a challenge. Someone could be on Boigu and travel to Cairns in a day – it’s part of Australia after all. And it’s going to be a big problem if exotic ones get to Far North Queensland.” It’s a sentiment Mr Serra shares. 

“Working with Torres Strait Islanders, a program to deleaf and keep their bananas clean would help.” Mr Collins said they’ve already developed some good relationships, but getting people on the ground to work with local landholders regularly will be key. 

The ABGC plans to continue to work with local landholders and relevant government agencies to improve disease management and banana production in the Torres Strait.