Go bananas while you still can. There is currently a rapidly spreading deadly fungus that is attacking banana plants across South Asia and other major banana producing areas. This fungus, called Tropical Race 4 or TR4, is killing off the Cavendish variety banana. The Cavendish banana is the one most North Americans are familiar with being the banana that is popularly sold in grocery stores. Tropical Race 4 has swept across the majority of China and Southeast Asia, destroying innumerable banana plantations. TR4 is killing bananas in Australia, and cases have been reported in southern Africa as well.
Around the world and specifically in the aforementioned areas, banana farmers are fighting a losing battle against the Tropical Race 4 fungus. TR4 is specifically a soil fungus that kills Cavendish bananas, which is incidentally the only type of banana grown for the international market (Panos). This diseased fungus was first noticed during the early 1990s in Malaysia, but it has now started to wipe out bananas in large parts of Southeast Asia as well as in Africa and the Middle East.
However, the fungus poses the greatest threat to Latin America and the Caribbean. The Latin American and Caribbean regions are responsible for 25% of bananas grown worldwide, and 80% of global banana exports (NPR).
Additionally, the TR4 disease can be devastating for small banana farmers, who provide about half of the 17 million tons of Cavendish bananas traded every year. The extinction of the Cavendish banana variety will affect millions. Most considerably, bananas are a staple food in many tropical countries, and the main source of protein for more than half a billion people around the world. The Cavendish banana, which makes up 47% of all bananas grown globally, is what many customers think the fruit should be: large, long and yellow (Stephens). Because of this, these smaller operation farmers fear buyers will look over local varieties, which might be smaller, or even red or green.
TP4 has spread to Southeast Asia, then across thousands of miles of open ocean to Australia and finally, in 2013, to Africa. “Its recent discovery in the Middle East and in Nampula, Mozambique, indicates that the disease is spreading and threatening bananas worldwide,” George Mahuku, Senior plant pathologist for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, told CNN. “It’s a serious threat to livelihoods and food security in the Nampula province, country and the continent, should it spread. In Africa, bananas are critical for food security and income generation for more than 100 million people” (Prisco).
According to Joao Augusto, a plant pathologist working 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” (Mikkelson). The banana as we now know it may be wiped out in front of the world’s eyes over the next decade or so, there are alternatives that the masses may look forward to. A genetic cousin to the Cavendish banana, the Gros Michel, may surface as a larger and better-tasting alternative to the soon to be extinct Cavendish.
Mikkelson, David. “Will Bananas Be Extinct in Ten Years?” Snopes. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Apr.
NPR. “Our Favorite Banana May Be Doomed; Can New Varieties Replace It?” NPR. NPR, n.d.
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Panos. “Scientists Battle Deadly Banana Fungus.” SciDev.Net South-East Asia & Pacific. N.p.,
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Prisco, Jacopo. “Why Bananas as We Know Them Might Go Extinct (again).” CNN. Cable News
Network, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.
Stephens, Leslie. “No, Bananas Are Not Going Extinct (But They Are in Trouble).” Food52.
Electrolux, 2015. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.