Do you eat a banana every day? If you do, then this may bad news for you. The production of banana in Southeast Asia has already declined because of an unstoppable fungus.
According to PLOS Pathogens Journal, the fungus, which is dubbed as the Tropical Race 4, is causing the decreasing number of bananas produced in Southeast Asia over several decades. 1 The fungus was first discovered in 2013 in Jordan, Pakistan, Australia, Africa and the Middle East. The fungus is now threatening the banana production in Latin America.
The Cavendish banana is the most at risk of all varieties of this fruit. Since it destroyed the Cavendish industry in Taiwan, the fungus is said to travel to Southeast Asia and it seems unstoppable. It is now spreading in the provinces of China.
This outbreak may be similar to the Panama disease that drove Gros Michel, a popular variety in the 1800s, to extinction.
The banana farmers and producers will have to conduct drastic strategy changes to prevent this fungus from spreading. They should also start to develop bananas that are resistant to this type of fungus.
Unfortunately, the development of new banana cultivars is a huge investment and it requires thorough research.
What is Tropical Race 4?
It’s a strain of fungus born in the soil that may kill the Cavendish banana variety. Tropical Race 4 originated in Indonesia and it has spread from various countries, like Taiwan, China and the rest of the Southeast Asia.
If it lands in Latin America, it could lead to the extinction or destruction of this banana variety.
The fungus targets the fruit’s vascular systems. As a result, it can no longer take in water causing it to wither and die, eventually.
Unfortunately, there is no known method yet to kill the fungus. The only way to prevent it from spreading is to contain it, which is proven to be difficult.
The Cavendish banana is a clone that can’t evolve. This makes the variety more susceptible to the disease.
But should we get worried about it?
According to some critics, this hypothesis is said to be circulating for many years and it offers no effects.
Mr. Koeppel’s opinion about bananas going to extinction is just a way for him and his colleagues to promote genetic modification. 2
In 2003, the UN FAO released a statement that bananas are not on the verge of extinction. 3 The organization pointed out that said banana variety is essential in world trade. But it only accounts for 10 percent of the bananas produced worldwide.
Scientists are also saying that there are ways to stop the spread of Tropical Race 4.
As regards to Koeppel, most researchers of bananas would agree that the real solution for the threat of Cavendish banana extinction is to abandon the monoculture. With a more diverse harvest, farmers can easily isolate susceptible bananas and surround them with varieties that are more susceptible to the fungus.
In the Philippines, there are several varieties of bananas that you can find, buy and eat. The threat of banana extinction isn’t felt yet here, at least for me. I just hope that it won’t affect the “tundan” variety as it’s my favorite type of banana.
- Ordonez, Nadia, Seidl, Michael F., Waalwijk, Cees, et. Al. (November 19, 2015). Worse Comes to Worst: Bananas and Panama Disease – When Plant and Pathogen Clones Meet. PLOS Pathogens. Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1005197
- Koeppel, Dan. (June 18, 2008). Yes, We Will Have No Bananas. NY Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/opinion/18koeppel.html?_r=0
3. (January 30, 2003). Bananas Not on Verge of Extinction. FAO Newsroom. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/english/newsroom/news/2003/13120-en.html