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Vanilla 2009, the fourth biannual conference was held recently in Jamesburg, New Jersey. The conference was organized by Daphna Havkin-Frenkel of Bakto Flavors and Rutgers University, together with Faith Belanger, Rutgers University; Juan Hernandez Hernadez, Mexico’s National Institute of Forests, Agriculture and Fisheries (INIFAP); and Michel Grisoni, Biological Systems Department of CIRAD (Reunion Island).
The conference was themed “Vanilla Diseases” in response to recent reports of widespread Fusarium among vanilla vines in Madagascar—a region that has historically produced about 70% of the world supply of vanilla beans. Clearly, it addressed both the causes of and possible solutions to vanilla disease, including physical remedies, biological controls and genome enabled technologies.
Read Day 2 presentations here.
The conference opened with Hank Kaestner, a consultant with Dammann and Co. discussing a historical perspective on Fusarium in the vanilla industry. He cited that the first reference to Fusarium in vanilla dated back to 1898 at a United States government research station in Puerto Rico; since then, the disease has significantly impacted vanilla in several countries including Indonesia, India and China. Kaestner, who was also among the first to note and report on Fusarium in Madagascar early in 2008, explained that the fungus is an opportunist, infecting a plant which is already weakened by stress. According to him, the conversion to semi-intensive cultivation of vanilla, promoted by the European Union in the late 1990s, is a probable cause of vine stress in Madagascar; the other is the over pollination of vines. He further said that increased incidence of major cyclones hitting Madagascar over the past decade has spread salt in the form of sea spray, thus significantly weakening a majority of vines growing near the coast.
To conclude his presentation, Kaestner highlighted his concerns about vanilla’s future, advocating a return to traditional planting and cultivation methods as the best near term defense against the Fusarium threat.