This Isn’t the First Time Bananas Have Been Threatened By Extinction
The banana we know is not the same banana as 50 years ago. Until 1965, we were eating a more resilient and sweeter species of banana (also known as cultivar in the banana vernacular) called the Gros Michel. Unlike the current variety that is consumed and exported around the world, the Gros Michel did not require artificial ripening. However, in 1965, as reported by CNN, a fungal disease known as the Panama Disease crawled through Central America and spread throughout the rest of the world like a wildfire, thereby causing the Gros Michel to be “declared commercially extinct.” All banana plantations were infected and burned down.
A Variation of the Panama Disease Threatens The Banana We Know Today
Enter the Cavendish, the contemporary cultivar and one of the most popular foods in the world. Although seen as inferior to its predecessor in taste and resilience, the Cavendish was cloned and grown in mass quantities after the extinction of the Gros Michel due to its seeming immunity to the devastating Panama Disease. However, Tropical Race 4 (TR4) – a variation of the fungus – is starting to pick up speed in its attack against the current cultivar. As reported by Food World News, TR4 was found in Malaysia in the 1990s, and it revealed itself to be a bigger threat than anticipated by 2013.
“Since its ‘second coming,’ TR4 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,” senior plant pathologist for the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, George Mahuku said.
What Causes Such Widespread Devastation In a Singular Species of Bananas?
Because of the Cavendish’s monoculture nature (meaning there is no genetic variety), a single contamination in the soil of one banana plantation exposes exponential risk to
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