Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser
Nature has its own ideas about our good intentions. Bananas appear to be on her current hit list as reported by the South China Morning Post.
Bananas used to be cheap, really cheap in comparison to many other fruits found at your grocery store, but times are a-changing.
One of the reasons is a rapidly spreading fungus called Panama disease TR4 that is affecting nearly half of the crop imported to North America and Europe.
Source of Bananas
Over 80% of the world’s banana exports come from Brazil and other South/Central American countries and nearly the entire rest is from Asia, as apparent from the Food and Agricultural Organization graphs on banana exports (first) and imports (second):
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN (FAO) claims that bananas are the eighth most important food crop in the world and the fourth most important food crop among the world’s least-developed countries. Through trade and supply bananas make up a global $8.9 billion trade industry.
Varieties of Bananas
Though not commonly found in supermarkets, the (other) “999” varieties of banana-type fruits in the world are not widely available. You only find a few in local farmers produce sections around tropical countries and not in your major food outlets on this continent.
Of course, there are many varieties and cultivars of “bananas” grown, also with different names, like plantain, and they are prepared in a multitude of ways according to local customs and palates. In many parts of the world, they have become an important food staple in one form or another.
Biologists think that the origin of modern day bananas is in Southeast Asia. According to Wikipedia, in Papua New Guinea, the cultivation of bananas goes back at least 5,000 years. In the New World, banana cultivation started in a century after Columbus’ discovery by Portuguese settlers in South America.
The type of banana you find in your grocery store is most likely of the Cavendish variety, a cultivar developed early in the 1800’s but not widely grown until the mid-1900’s. They take about one year from planting to flowering and another year to produce harvestable fruit.
As with any plant grown in large monocultures, banana plantations are also affected by natural pests like beetles and nematodes, and viral and fungal diseases that need to be controlled. Until now, banana plantations have been able to thwart pests and diseases with a variety of pesticides and other control mechanisms.
But right now, a new menace is emerging that has no cure – yet: the fungus known as Panama disease TR4. Some people think it could wipe out the Cavendish variety altogether.
Let’s hope that the fear is greater than the reality of the threat. If not, it may be time to go bananas over growing bananas; either way perhaps it’s time to have another banana split while you can.
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser Bio
Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser Most recent columns
- Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
- Dr. Kaiser can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org