The beloved banana may be at risk of becoming extinct, as crops worldwide have been hit by a deadly fungus which is causing irreparable damage.
The Cavendish species of banana is being killed off by Tropical Race 4, a fungal disease from Malaysia that has spread throughout Southeast Asia, Australia and Africa.
Believe it or not, this is not the first time a fungus has wiped out an entire species of the bright yellow fruit. By 1965, the Gros Michel species of banana—which lasted longer, were more resilient, and didn’t require artificial ripening—was eradicated after what was called the Panama disease, a different strain of a similar fungal disease wiped out the world’s commercial banana plantations.
After that, the industry looked for a new version of the crop, settling on the inferior Cavendish as its only alternative. It was then cloned and grown across the globe, making the single species (aka a monoculture) extremely susceptible to spreading infection—once one plant gets hit with the fungus, they’re all in trouble. As a result, we’re facing the same issues from 50 years ago. And it’s impacting the livelihoods—ranging from food security to income—of more than 100 million people.
The biggest hurdle is that the fungus remains in the soil. It affects the plant’s vascular system and prevents it from picking up water from the ground. This means that the only way to remove it is to burn the banana plantations to the ground, then begin fresh in a new location with a new species of banana crops. The disease is spreading because bad practices from the 1960s are still in place.
“It cannot be eradicated but it can be limited if a wide range of strong preventative and mitigation initiatives are put in place and rigorously implemented,” Joao Augusto, a plant pathologist told CNN. “In countries where the disease is endemic, the growers have learned to live with it.”
While there are other species of banana for countries to lean on, the yield is nowhere near that of the Cavendish. Plus, the disease is beginning to creep into the local varieties’ crops as well.
Our only hope is that grower don’t throw in the towel but instead make positive changes to their farming practices and keep the industry alive. in the meantime, might we suggest taking full advantage of the fruit you love while it’s still with us. Perhaps, make a summertime appropriate frozen version, a classic banana split or even eat a banana split for breakfast.