The banana is big business.
It is the most traded fruit in the world that forms a multi-billion dollar industry, but a virulent disease is threatening the humble banana.
What is it?
Also known as ‘Panama Disease, ’Fusarium wilt’ is spreading around the world, devastating banana plantations. This particular strain of the virus is known as TR4 - Tropical Race 4 - which first came to light in Taiwan about 20 years ago, has spread across Asia to the Middle East and Africa and last year arrived in Latin America.
Scientists are fearful?
They describe it as the banana equivalent of Covid-19 due to the ferocity of the fungus that ravages banana plantations by attacking the roots and blocking the flow of water and nutrients.
It’s a crisis?
According to the UN, the disease is a “serious threat to banana production” because once it contaminates the soil, it can remain in the ground for 30 years.
As of yet, there is no remedy?
Just as with Covid-19, there is no remedy, with scientists recommending measures such as “plant quarantine” to hamper its spread.
Growers in the Philippines said last month that shipments may drop by nearly 40% as lockdown and social distancing impacts output, at a time when sales are also up. The FAO (Food and Agriculature Organisation of the UN) said that "in view of the challenges associated with control of the disease and the risk posed to the global banana supply, it is evident that a concerted effort is required from industry, research institutions, government and international organisations to prevent spread of the disease.”
Bananas are big business?
The low calorie energy boost offered by the curvy yellow snack, which is rich in potassium, carbohydrate and vitamin B6, has helped to make it the world’s most globally exported fruit. There are more than 1,000 varieties, but the most commercialised is the Cavendish.
The Cavendish is British?
Bananas have been grown at the historic home of the Cavendish family, Chatsworth House in the Peak District since 1830, when head gardener Joseph Paxton got his hands on a specimen imported from Mauritius. It now accounts for 99% of global banana exports as it’s easier to ship because it doesn’t ripen too quickly.
The biggest exporter now is…?
Bananas are grown in more than 150 countries and 105 million tonnes of fruit are produced each year, but Ecuador is the biggest exporter, shifting $3.3 billion worth of bananas last year, followed by the Philippines at just under $2 billion and Colombia at $1.6 billion.
Concern is growing in Ecuador as it shares a border with Columbia and TR4 was found there last year.
The banana has its roots in Asia?
It is thought to originate from the jungles of Indonesia or the Philippines around 8000 to 5000BC, with Arabian slave traders later said to have named it - the word banana is derived from the Arab for ‘finger’.
But it was in 327 BC that Alexander The Great and his army invaded India, discovered banana crop and introduced his discovery to the world.
The industry is now desperately exploring ways to tackle the disease and ensure a sustainable future.
Tackle it how?
Quarantine and containment is step one - stopping spread of the disease via infected soil particles on clothes or vehicles, for example. Meanwhile, research is ongoing to create new banana plants resistant to the disease and explore soil biodiversity, as research has shown some soils offer more protection.