As large agricultural companies tend to monopolize a particular strain of crop, the system becomes more susceptible to epidemics due to lack of biodiversity. The current crop in danger of extinction happens to be America’s favorite fruit, the banana!
A fungus referred to as Panama Disease has become deadly to the popular Cavendish banana. The fungus has advanced to the bananas in Mozambique and Jordan. Researchers fear the fungus will soon reach Latin America, which grows the majority of the world’s bananas.
Facts on the beloved Cavendish banana
- Each new fruit is a genetic duplicate of the next
- They are seedless
- They are sexless
- Every Cavendish you eat is exactly the same genetically as every other one
- In 2008, Americans ate 7.6 billion pounds of Cavendish bananas
- Virtually all bananas you eat are imported from Latin America
- The Cavendish is rich in Vitamins B6 and C, has high levels of potassium, magnesium, and fiber
The obstacles attacking the number one fruit in America continue to stack up. To add insult to injury, Costa Rica declared its own banana emergency in early December. Mealybugs and scale insects attacked the banana plants, making them ineligible for export. Agriculture engineer Eric Bolanos referred to these bugs as “banana vampires.”
“Basically, what it does is suck out the nutrients, or sap from the plant’s organs, stems, leaves. It could reach the fruit, causing damage (like) dark stains.”
A strain of the fungus in the 1950s was responsible for the demise of the precursor to the Cavendish, the Gros Michel banana. The Gros Michel was the main type of banana imported into the U.S. from the 19th century through the 1950s. The flavor is said to have been much tastier than the much-loved Cavendish.
According to Dan Koeppel, author of Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, There is no replacement in sight for the Cavendish.
“They’re in a bind. The business model of the banana companies is like that of McDonald’s. They sell one crappy product in huge bulk at low prices. There’s a real problem to get diversity in the banana market.”
As the Cavendish faces possible extinction, a team of scientists of the Quensland University of Technology anxiously attempt to develop a genetically modified Cavendish. Another group, led by Juan Fernando Aguilar of the Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola, pursue to naturally engineer a better banana.
Koeppel believves, a modified banana (conventionally or genetically) would only be part of the arsenal of ensuring bananas in the future. He predicts the demise to happen anytime between 5 to 20 years from now.
“Nobody knows, but that’s not a reason to relax,” says Koeppel. “Contaminated dirt will come to a country on someone’s boots or on a container ship. All it takes is one clump of dirt and the infection begins.”
The End Of The Banana As We Know It
Feature Image courtesy of thewikies.com