New Study Confirms That Bananas Are Going Extinct
A fungal disease is wreaking havoc on the world’s favorite fruit.
A new study has confirmed that bananas, the world’s favorite fruit, is in fact going extinct. The result, published in PLOS Pathogens, reveal that Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is a clone of Panama disease and that the quaratine efforts made to date have proven ineffective.
“We know that the origin of [Tropical Race 4] is in Indonesia and that it spread from there, most like lWageningen University and Research Center, who co-authored the study, told Quartz. Now the deadly fungus has spread to Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Mozambique, and Australia’s northeast Queensland.
While we do have some time before we’re totally without the tropical fruit, once the disease reaches the root of the plants, it’s basically game over. Quartz reports that Taiwan now only exports 2 percent of what it used to in the 1960s, when TR4 was first discovered. Like the Gros Michel banana before it, the Cavendish is prone to a fungal takedown. This threatens the $11 billion global banana trade—and our summertime banana splits.
Bananas are in big trouble. While the beloved fruit remains as popular as ever, its crops across the world have been hit with an infectious fungus and the damage is irreparable.
The Cavendish species of banana, which was introduced in 1965, is currently the primary banana export in the world. And it’s being completely ruined by Tropical Race 4, a fungal disease that began in Malaysia in 1990 and has since spread to Southeast Asia, Australia, and finally Africa in 2013.
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.