Bye bye, banana?

The Beginning of the End for Bananas?

Already reeling from a 20-year losing battle with a devastating disease, the banana variety eaten in the United States is now threatened by a new—but old—enemy.

By Dan Koeppel
The Scientist

Our standard supermarket banana, a variety called Cavendish, may be at the brink of disaster. Chosen for its resistance to a fungal pathogen that wiped out its predecessor, the Gros Michel banana, the popular fruit has long battled a related fungus, which has all but devastated the banana industry in certain parts of the world. Now, it appears the Cavendish variety is facing a new threat—the very same fungal disease that drove Gros Michels off the market.

Cavendish bananas account for about 45 percent of the fruit’s global crop, with an annual export value of US$8.5 billion, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. It was chosen to replace the original Gros Michel banana after a deadly fungal infection, known as Panama disease (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. Cubense), wiped out much of the world’s banana crop in the first half of the 20th century.

Farmers adopted the Cavendish variety because it appeared to resist the blight, as well as about a dozen other banana diseases that also threaten the worldwide crop. But it wasn’t long before it too started suffering from disease. In the late 1980s, a mysterious malady began to wipe out Asian Cavendish plantations. Soil samples were sent to plant pathologist Randy Ploetz of the University of Florida’s Tropical Research and Education Center, who made the shocking identification: Panama disease was back, in the form of a new strain, which he dubbed Tropical Race 4.

Race 4 is just as virulent to Cavendish as Race 1 was to Gros Michel. The fungus enters the plant via its roots through infected soil or water and spreads via the plant’s vascular system. Once exposed, the plant yellows, and begins to look obviously sick—dried-out, sunken, and sagging. As the disease progresses, brown and purple stripes appear on the trunk, and the plant eventually dies. The disease, however, lives on, spreading via infected soil from plant to plant, plantation to plantation.

Read more at The Scientist

8 responses to “Bye bye, banana?

  1. Chiquita and Dole are the disease. Corporate greed and control is the poison that needs to be stamped out.

  2. The banana is a mutant sterile hybrid freak of nature that we are inclined to eat. The normal wild variety is so full of seeds it is virutally unpalatable. The mutant doesn’t produce seeds and therefore it can only be propagated via cuttings or grafting. As is the case with any creature or plant which is mutated from the norm they are generally more susceptible to all manner of infections where their normal healthy kin are generally immune to the same infections.

    As the article says the main cause of this destructive disease is its ability to spread due to the way in which the crops are planted and grown. The Irish Famine was caused by monoculture, single species potato crops being grown on the same land for years. Potato blight built up in the soil because it could and then it devastated the harvest.

    We are seeing the results of factory style agriculture in the banana plantations which will lead to the extinction of a complete crop simply because the people in charge have put profit before sustainability. Variety is the spice of life and that applies to natural agriculture too. We need varieties of plants growing together not one single species or type pr hybrid. When will we learn?

    It won’t be long though before we have another type of mutant banana to fall back on which is immune to these infections but it may take some time to come to fruition. So in the meantime we need to be reducing our reliance on one crop agriculture and start as we need to be going forward and plant mutlicrop fields aka permaculture. Its got to happen sooner rather than later as we are quickly running out of time and space. The fertile land is being eroded at an alarming rate around the planet.

    • Well stated. In effect, i meant the same thing, only less eloquently. We see this monoculture thing everywhere these days… one type of potato, one tomato, on and on… away from the bounty of nature. This is corporatism endeavoring to control nature in order to control and impose a mindset of shortage on us in order to maintain a tight grip on $ and population control… after all it is easier to kill billions than to control them. They are doing it now with water, as they have done with oil, with diamonds, with… think people.

  3. all true, what both of you say

    still, I’ll be sad to see the banana go!

  4. Wanda, you’re so right that we need to develop variety in agriculture, as well as eating more local foods. But remember, all of humanity wants to “control nature”, not just corporations. And corporations want MORE people, because more people mean a bigger market for whatever they produce – oil, diamonds, food, whatever. And corporations are made up of people, lots of them, doing their jobs every day and taking home their paychecks, and buying food, gas for their cars, clothes for their kids, health care, etc. Corporations also have stockholders, people like my husband and I, who want their stock to grow in value so they can retire someday and send their kids to college. Stop the “evil corporation” language, because it makes conversation impossible.

    • Corporatism is the problem… it has made itself the problem when it bought government and got itself declared as personhood, but the laws that apply to humans, whom they have also corporatized, do not apply to them… ???

      Why does everything have to be profitised? Does everything have to be profitised? I think not… and i think you need to be a bit more choosy with your investments. People need life and a way to sustain life… people do not live by profits… especially when only some may profit.

  5. Monoculture is the supreme evil. I am going to look into a dwarf fruit producing banana that I can grow indoor/outdoor. We’ll see.

  6. Hmmm…An observation in this article may have just lost me an argument with a way too cynical friend who, having read about a sudden new fungal strain, started babbling about a deliberate mutation to corner the market with a newly modified variety. “Nonsense,” was my muster, “you’d need your replacement waiting in the wings before letting loose a death knoll like that…”
    Not that Dole & Chiquita are going to nudge me into her levels of paranoia. Who has those Honduran seeds?
    G Alexander

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