Get Ready to Say Goodbye to Bananas
Who doesn't love a nice banana? They're tasty portable snacks, they make a great daiquiri, and they’re wonderful additions to a green smoothie or bowl of oatmeal. Well, eat your fill now, because if history is any indicator, global banana production may soon be in serious jeopardy.
The culprit is disease. Specifically, a strain of a tropical fungus is targeting the most popular form of banana, and there is currently no effective treatment.
A fungus known as Fusarium wilt Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is decimating banana crops in key locations around the world according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). TR4 spreads via soil, attacking plants at their roots and turning the core of the banana plant to a black mushy mess. If growers don't find a way to quickly contain the spread of TR4, the ramifications for the banana industry could be dire.
TR4 first appeared in Asia in the 1990s. Inexorably it spread through Southeast Asia, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of banana crops throughout Australia, Malaysia, China, the Philippines and Indonesia. TR4 spreads via water droplets, dirt on shoes and equipment, and any other method that allows soil to travel from point A to point B.
The Most Popular Type Banana is Most at Risk
The type of banana most of us know and love today is the Cavendish. This type comprises about 95 percent of the bananas imported to North America and Europe. Unfortunately, the Cavendish banana is defenseless against TR4. There's little growers can do to protect crops once TR4 insinuates itself into the soil and begins its path of destruction.
The problem breaks down to these factors, says the FAO:
- The banana industry has "no viable fully effective treatment" to control TR4 in the field
- Fungus spores remain viable within soil for decades
- The industry currently has no alternate banana variety resistant to TR4 that could replace the Cavendish
- More research is needed to understand and combat TR4
- The only defenses are prevention and containment of infested soil and plants
Scientists have seen this "banana-geddon" devastation before. In the 1950s, the most popular banana was the Gros Michel — that is, until an earlier form of this fungus took hold and almost crushed the industry. Growers were forced to switch to the more resistant Cavendish. It's been the world's most-exported banana since that time.
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Banana image via Shutterstock.