The End of Bananas?

Emma Sims

Bananas contain many essential nutrients such as vitamin B6, manganese, vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and copper. Besides being nutritional powerhouses, bananas also serve as convenient on-the-go snacks for students who are trying to balance a busy schedule. However, this fruit may not be around for much longer, due to a disease known as Tropical Race 4.

In the 1950s, bananas faced a similar problem. The fruit used to be much sweeter and softer, the taste resembling that of the artificial flavor found in banana candies today. This variety of banana was known as the Gros Michel. Because of the mass production of this one type of banana, there was little to no genetic diversity in the majority of banana industries, making them much more susceptible to be wiped out by disease.

This disease did eventually arrive, known as the Panama disease. The world was left with a banana crisis as the most widely produced variety was now threatened. Shortly, the Cavendish banana, the only one sold internationally today, was introduced, and banana lovers and growers alike breathed a sigh of relief, as this variety was found to be immune to the Panama disease.  Now, history threatens to repeat itself as a new strand of the disease, Tropical Race 4, is steadily spreading, wiping out entire banana farms by infecting the soil with infectious spores. Starting in Southeast Asia, China, and Indonesia, this disease has spread to Australia and parts of the Middle East, and has, thus far, proved immune to fungicides. Many scientists say that it is only a matter of time before it reaches the Americas.

Is there a solution?

Many believe the solution lies in genetic modification of bananas to find a variety that proves immune to Tropical Race 4, and many efforts are being made to uncover this potential superfruit. For now, all banana farmers can hope to do is contain this disease and ensure it does not spread. According to promusa.org, a knowledge-sharing platform on bananas managed by Bioversity International, “The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called on banana-producing countries to step up monitoring and reporting, and to contain suspected incursions to prevent the fungus from getting established.”

For now, all students can do is enjoy every banana they are able to eat, and hope it is not their last.

Header Photo Courtesy of Emma Sims