Food & Nutrition Security – The Biosecurity, Health, Trade Nexus

13-14 December 2021, Canberra


Irene Kernot

Research Program Manager for Horticulture, ACIAR

Irene Kernot manages the Horticulture research portfolio at ACIAR. Before joining ACIAR, Irene worked in northern Australia as an agronomist in the Northern Territory and in Queensland as an extension horticulturist in tropical fruit systems. In Queensland Irene managed a Tropical Fruit research group that included Market Access and Banana researchers. This gave Irene a solid grounding in the importance of biosecurity and the importance of good science in incursion response and management. In that time the research team supported responses to Panama TR4, Black Sigatoka and Oriental Fruit Fly as well to non-biotic damage from cyclones Larry and Yasi.

The race to save bananas

Rapid-Fire Case Study


Fusarium Wilt of banana caused by the soil borne fungus Fusarium oxysporum f sp cubense was first recorded in Australia in 1874, but its spread to Panama in 1890 was the start of the first global epidemic. The disease affected a susceptible variety dominant at the time, Gros Michel. By the 1950s Gros Michel was replaced by a variety resistant to the disease the Cavendish banana. A silver bullet solution was rapidly adopted around the world. Then in 1967 symptoms of Fusarium Wilt appeared on Cavendish in Taiwan, with Tropical Race 4, the race that affects Cavendish in any environment named in the 1990s. In 2019 it appeared in Colombia establishing it in every banana growing region globally. This is a race the disease is winning in turtle-like fashion.

Despite this banana remains an important export and also provides nutrition and livelihood benefits to growers and communities around the tropics. What can we learn from our biosecurity responses to races one and four to provide a competitive advantage against any future race?

Both technical and behavioural strategies are necessary to be prepared for inevitable change. Solutions must offer hope to growers and smallholders that production can be maintained despite the presence of the disease as the return to business as usual becomes a distant dream.