Favorite Fruit Threatened: Could We Have Saved It?

The Cavendish banana variety is currently on the brink of extinction due to a fungal disease, better known as Panama disease

by Sededin Dedovic
Favorite Fruit Threatened: Could We Have Saved It?
© Sean Gallup / Getty Images

Annually, the global consumption of bananas exceeds 100 billion, with approximately 47 percent consisting of endangered banana varieties. This concerning statistic highlights the fragility of our banana supply and the urgent need for diversification and disease-resistant alternatives.

The Cavendish banana variety faces an imminent threat of extinction due to a fungal disease known as Panama disease. Reports from Unilad indicate that the soil-borne fungus is wreaking havoc on banana crops across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Australia, and Central America.

This devastating disease, also referred to as "banana wilt," specifically attacks the fruit's vascular system, hindering its ability to absorb water from the soil. Research underscores the fact that over 100 billion bananas are consumed annually, and nearly half of these are of the Cavendish variety.

Panama disease is not new to banana cultivation, as it previously decimated a banana type called Gros Michel, primarily during the 1950s. This catastrophic event forced farmers to transition to the Cavendish variety due to its resistance to the T1 strain.

Presently, banana crops are grappling with the T4 strain of Panama disease, which spreads at a slower pace. James Dale, a professor and the head of the banana biotechnology program at the Queensland University of Technology, predicts that it may take another decade for Cavendish bananas to vanish entirely.

The greater the genetic diversity among these varieties, the less susceptible they will be to diseases

Renowned journalist and author of the book 'Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World,' Dan Kopel, expressed his concerns to Insider, emphasizing that a viable solution to this crisis is still far from reach.

According to Kopel, the ultimate answer lies in ending monoculture practices and embracing diversity. He firmly believes that a new, disease-resistant banana variety is urgently required, akin to the emergence of the Cavendish variety following the extinction of Gros Michel.

Kopel suggests that the long-term solution lies in mass-producing and selling multiple banana varieties. The greater the genetic diversity among these varieties, the less susceptible they will be to diseases, he concludes.