Claim: Bananas will be extinct within ten years.
|WHAT'S FALSE: Bananas are in danger of going extinct in the near future.|
|WHAT'S TRUE: The most popular form of banana, the cavendish, is currently threatened by a disease that could wipe it out.|
Example: [Collected via e-mail, 2003]
Origins: Once again, the ecological doomsday bell has been set to tolling, this time by folks fearful of the imminent demise of our favorite fruit, the banana. In January 2003, a report in New Scientist suggested bananas could well disappear within ten years thanks to two blights: black Sigatoka, a leaf fungus, and Panama disease, a soil fungus which attacks the roots of the plant.
Bananas aren't about to be swept from the face of the earth by a deadly pestilence poised to wipe them out (and more than ten years has elapsed since that original report, yet bananas are still with us). There are several hundred different varieties of the fruit, and the reported fear applies to only one of them, the Cavendish. Granted, the Cavendish is our banana of choice and accounts for the overwhelming pronderance of banana exports and purchases, but it isn't the only banana out there. Even if the Cavendish were lost to us, we would still not be singing "Yes, We Have No Bananas."
The Cavendish, the banana American consumers are most familiar with, has been threatened in some Asian countries by a strain of fusarium wilt known as Panama Disease or Tropical
Bananas stand in greater peril from disease and insect damage than the majority of other fruits because they are sterile, seedless mutants. New plants are created from cuttings of existing ones, making them little more than clones of one another. Without the natural diversity resulting from sexual reproduction, bananas continue on generation after generation with the same genetic makeup. Their inability to mutate and adapt leaves them vulnerable to species-wide disaster, because what fells one of them will prove the undoing of every plant within that particular variety. In the 1960s the Gros Michel, then a hugely popular variety of banana, was wiped out by another strain of Panama Disease. The loss of the Gros Michel promoted the Cavendish into the
Lack of genetic diversity does place the banana in a precarious position, and the danger posed by
Even though the disease appears to have spread to just two plantations in Mozambique, the impact on the local economy is already severe: "The disease has already cost Matanuska, the company that owns the plantations, about $7.5 million. A total of 230,000 plants have been affected and destroyed. At the current rate of infection, the farm is losing 15,000 plants per week, translating to $236,000 per week," said Mahuku.
The disease is not more virulent than the one that killed the Gros Michel, but it's spreading because the bad practices from 50 years ago are still in place: "The banana industry is in denial about this, and standard agricultural quarantines like fencing the crops and cleaning the equipment are not enough," added [author Dan] Koeppel.
The only solution would be to burn the plantation down and start over, but with a different crop. Restarting with bananas doesn't work because the fungus stays in the soil.
According to Joao Augusto, a plant pathologist working with IITA in Mozambique, there aren't many options to effectively control the disease: "It cannot be eradicated, but it can be limited if a wide range of strong preventive and mitigation initiatives are put in place and rigorously implemented. In countries where the disease is endemic, the banana growers have learned to live with it."
Ultimately, history could well repeat itself and prompt banana growers to look for a new alternative. There is no good candidate at the moment, but hybrids and GMOs are being considered.
Bananas, by the way, grow on plants, not trees. One last bit of banana trivia: a bunch of bananas is properly styled a hand, and a single fruit a finger.
Barbara "so give someone you love a hand" Mikkelson
| Nutritional Properties of the Banana
Hopkins, Kamahria. "Bananas, A Kitchen Staple, Are Nutrition Powerhouses, Too." Omaha World Herald. 7 August 2003 (p. E1). Pearce, Fred. "Bye-Bye, Banana." The Boston Globe. 18 February 2003 (p. C1). Prisco, Jacopo. "Why Bananas as We Know Them Might Go Extinct." CNN. 22 July 2015. BusinessWorld. "Cavendish Bananas Far from Extinction — Experts." 11 September 2003. New Scientist. "Going Bananas." 18 January 2003 (p. 26). PR Newswire. "Plant Pathologists Unpeel Rumors of Banana Extinction." 14 February 2003.