A fungus known as Panama disease, also known as Tropical Race 4, is threatening the world’s most popular type of fruit — the Cavendish banana — with extinction.
Banana growers in some parts of the world have been fighting the fungus since 2013, where outbreaks in Australia and Southeast Asia have destroyed entire banana crops. The disease, which originated in Indonesia, has since been primarily concentrated in Taiwan. Experts believe that it is only a matter of time before the fungus spreads to regions of Latin America where the bulk of the bananas found in our supermarkets are imported from.
The Gros Michel banana was driven to extinction by a similar fungal outbreak that started in the late 1800s. According to The Daily Mail, the disease was first spotted in 1876 in Australia. By 1890, it had spread to plantation crops in Costa Rica and Panama. By the 1960s, the Gros Michel banana was globally extinct.
Scientists warn of a similar fate to the Cavendish if the fungus is not dealt with.
According to a research report published in the journal PLOS Pathogen, growers will need to adapt new farming strategies involving the careful monitoring of the banana plants and the quarantine of plants which are found to have traces of the fungus. Ideally, bananas will need to be engineered to have resistances to Panama disease.
It is believed that the fungus has been spreading through a variety of means, “either through infected plant material, contaminated soil, tools, or footwear, or due to flooding and inappropriate sanitation measures”, according to the report.
The researchers emphasized that major investments in research and development will be needed to save the world’s bananas.
Developing new banana cultivars, however, requires major investments in research and development and the recognition of the banana as a global staple and cash crop that supports the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers.
Some are describing the potential destruction in Latin America as a “bananapocalypse”, as more than 60 percent of the world’s bananas are grown in the tropical area. The destruction of these crops would not only destroy the livelihoods of the farmers, but it could also lead to the complete elimination of one of the world’s most popular and beloved fruits.