The Banana As We Know It Is Dying…Again

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 27, 2017 3:24 pm
(Credit: Shutterstock)

(Credit: Shutterstock)

The bananas your grandparents ate were different than the ones you eat today. And the bananas your grandchildren know will probably be entirely different as well.

For the moment, we are in the age of the Cavendish, a banana cultivar that accounts for 99 percent of imports to the Western world. But the Cavendish is in trouble. Like its predecessor the Gros Michel, the Cavendish may soon pass from our lives, potentially taking with it an entire industry.

At the heart of the conflict is the sturdy little fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense; it infects and kills banana plants and, since the banana industry relies so heavily on one species, it is spreading steadily across banana-rich Southeast Asia and into Australia and the Middle East.

The awkwardly long scientific name is because it is only one of several strains of the pathogen, also known as Panama disease. The current epidemic is a close cousin to the variety of Panama disease that nearly ended the banana industry entirely in the mid-20th century.

Today, Tropical Race 4, or TR4, is taking down the Cavendish. The mid-20th century menace was Race 1, which ravaged banana plantations in Central America, home to most commercial operations, beginning in the early 1900s. By 1960, it was ubiquitous in the region.

There’s no cure, no spray that fights the disease, and it was only a lucky break, followed by a mad rush of replanting, that saved commercial banana production from itself back then. Today, that same tragicomic situation is playing out once again, and it appears we haven’t learned much.

Those Who Forget The Past

By the early 1900s, United Fruit had established itself as the leading banana producer in Central America. Vast banana plantations, many on land donated by the government, produced vast quantities of a fruit few in the U.S. had ever seen before. The banana would soon be firmly entrenched in consumer’s lives.

But we don’t know bananas, not really. United Fruit made its fortune on a single variety, the Gros Michel, which is just one of dozens of varieties grown for consumption around the world. Western customers, then and today, have only peeled back one layer of the real diversity that’s out there.

Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” was near-perfect for mass production. Tightly-packed bunches, thick skin and a general durability made it easy to transport and the banana was sweet and creamy enough to keep customers coming back. Once they had the Gros Michel, the banana companies never looked back.

Banana growers utterly embraced Big Mike, growing it as a monoculture on massive plantations to take advantage of the heightened efficiency that homogenous production brings. In the process, they lost the resiliency that diversity imparts.

In a forest filled with hundreds of plants, Cavendish and Gros Michel plants would have been few and far in between, so Panama disease couldn’t spread far. In a plantation where bananas grow by the thousands, the fungus had nothing to stop it.

A Dirty Menace

The fungus lives in the soil, where it attacks the roots of the banana plant and eventually clogs their xylem, the tissues responsible for transporting water. Within a few months, or a year or two at most, banana plants die. Fusarium spreads slowly but surely as it can’t travel via the wind like some other diseases; instead, it hitches rides on boots, tires and farm equipment. Once the disease infiltrates a plantation, containment is difficult — most growers simply choose to abandon the infected soil completely — and the fungus creates spores that can remain viable for decades.

Because the fungus spreads so slowly, United Fruit was for a time able to maintain production by simply moving their plantations. The company exerted enormous political influence in the poor Central American countries it occupied, leaving them free to snap up millions of acres of fresh land.

“The policy was, when our plantations die out we will just move on to other good banana soils, which would be virgin rainforest, chop it down and keep expanding,” says Clyde Stephens, a retired banana researcher who worked for United Fruit for more than 30 years.

Over the course of more than three decades in the 1900s, United Fruit staged a measured retreat through the verdant rainforests of Central America. Tropical forests, with their nutrient-rich soil, were replaced by orderly stands of banana plants in a wave of colonization and subsequent abandonment. All the while, the fungus stalked close behind.

“And finally, they couldn’t keep running,” Stephens says. Desperate for a cure to Panama disease the company poured millions of dollars into a long-shot solution: Flooding banana fields in an attempt to drown out the fungus.

It didn’t work.

“After a year or two, all the new planted vigorous, beautiful Gros Michel started dying off,” Stephens says. “It was a multi-million-dollar failure.”

In 1958, Stephens says, decades after Panama disease first showed up, United Fruit finally began searching for a new variety in earnest. Though there are many edible banana varieties out there, few also have qualities that make them ideal for mass production.

Through trial and error they found that the Cavendish, a variety similar to the Gros Michel and discovered hiding in the greenhouse of a British Duke, seemed able to the weather the fungus. It was a windfall. Though it didn’t ship as well as the Gros Michel, the Cavendish was easy to grow and tasted good enough for the company to stake its future on.

In just a few short years, Stephens says, United Fruit figured out how to plant, foster, fertilize, harvest, ship, ripen and sell the Cavendish banana. It was a massive feat of agricultural engineering, and saved the company from bankruptcy. By the mid-1960s, United Fruit was wildly profitable once again, and the banana was back.

But just 30 years later, an interregnum short enough that those who fought Panama disease in Central America are still alive to remember it, the fungus resurfaced in southeast Asia, in Cavendish bananas this time. The one-time savior of the banana companies had a short life span.

Doomed To Repeat It

Though United Fruit, now Chiquita Brands International, has lost the dominance it enjoyed during the 20th century, the banana continues to be a lucrative crop. While Latin America still leads the world in exports, Southeast Asia countries produce far more — most of which is consumed at home. Globally, 114 million tons of bananas are produced every year, almost half of which are Cavendish.

Though Southeast Asia, where bananas originated, grows dozens of varieties of banana, the Cavendish is the only kind deemed acceptable for export. That makes it a lucrative cash crop, and the region exported nearly 4 million metric tons of bananas in 2014.

The Cavendish boom began in the 1990s, when demand from Middle Eastern countries began to grow. And, coincidentally, that time period neatly aligns with the first wide-spread appearance of TR4 in the region, says Randy Ploetz, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida.

“For the first time we started seeing this susceptibility of what we thought was a resistant banana,” he says. “In short order when they started trying to grow these export plantations of Cavendish in southeast Asia they started succumbing to this new genetic group of the pathogen.”

Ploetz thinks that TR4 was probably there in the soil all along, but, because it doesn’t affect many of banana types typically grown there, it was never able to spread. In fact, the disease likely grew up right alongside the bananas, he thinks, a tandem evolution that left the disease more virulent and the local bananas better at protecting themselves. The Cavendish, though, didn’t benefit from this evolutionary arms race.

“Monoculture plantations of banana or any crop are a surefire way that if you’ve got a virulent pathogen out there, boy you’re gonna know about it because you’ve got this uniform population of suspect hosts,” he says.

The way TR4 is moving is depressingly similar to the way TR1 spread in Central America. And Asian banana growers are reacting much like United Fruit did, by uprooting plantations to try and keep ahead of the disease. It’s already widespread in China, Ploetz says, and has begun to encroach on Laos and Vietnam.

As before, the tactic isn’t working. Banana exports in 2015 from Asia dropped by 46 percent, due to both storms and the disease. In recent years, the disease has spread to Australia and the Middle East, and turned up most recently in Mozambique. Growers in Central America worry that they’re next.

Losing Ground

It hasn’t helped that plantation owners in Asia often don’t use responsible planting techniques that could slow down or perhaps stop the disease’s spread. That includes quarantining affected areas and carefully cleaning farm equipment that could transmit the disease elsewhere. The practice of using suckers, or shoots from the banana plants’ stems, to grow new stands could be a factor as well. Commercial bananas are clones, they don’t reproduce with seeds like most plants. When growers need to establish a new grove, they do so with the identical twins of existing plants.

Suckers from infected individuals will spread the disease wherever they are planted. Plants grown from tissue cultures, or collections of cells incubated in a lab, won’t spread disease in this way, but the practice is more difficult and expensive and growers in southeast Asia don’t always do it.

One company in the Philippines, South African-based Unifrutti, has done a decent job of keeping their plantations clean, Ploetz says, but they are by far the minority. Even Australia, where a government-imposed quarantine for bananas went into effect, was unable to keep the disease out.

To cope, researchers have for years been attempting to create genetically modified versions of the Cavendish that are immune to TR4. There has been some success with breeding somoclones, a type of genetic variation caused by tissue culture cultivation. There are a few somoclonal variants that display a greater resistance to Panama disease, Ploetz says, but even these die out after two or three cycles of harvesting and must be replanted.

The prospect of creating a transgenic banana, one with beneficial genes from another species, or one that’s been modified with a technique like CRISPR is even more tantalizing. Just this year, James Dale, a researcher at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia reported that he’d created two strains of TR4-resistant Cavendish using genes borrowed from other species. Two separate varieties, one with genes from a banana resistant to TR-4, and another with genes from a nematode, remained disease-free after three years.

It’s a victory for Dale, who’s been working on such a banana for years now. And it could represent a renaissance for the Cavendish, allowing the banana to return to fungus-laden fields and continue its dominance. Such an undertaking would be expensive, though banana exporters who have built their fortunes on the variety could have little choice. And for Central American growers fearful of the disease’s seemingly inevitable appearance on their shores, it could be a godsend.

If planting transgenic banana proves to be economical, and consumers can stomach the extra genes, the Cavendish may well remain king in Western supermarkets for the foreseeable future.

What remains to be seen is whether genetically-modified bananas are simply a more high-tech version of the great banana swap United Fruit pulled off in the 20th century. No matter what genes they have, the Cavendish will still be grown in the kind of monoculture plantations that let disease spread in the first place.

If Ploetz is right, TR4 could be but one of many previously undiscovered banana pathogens already in existence. TR5 could be lurking in the wings, waiting for its cue.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: agriculture
  • Uncle Al

    First, the “Fat Michael.” Then, the Cavendish (animal fodder). Finally, all the whining in the world. To criticize is to volunteer. Gene-gineer a delicious, disease-resistant banana. What is the point of enslaving Central America if citizens cannot obtain a givlomh decent yellow banana?

    • Daniel San

      Say what?

      • Uncle Al

        Stack shift “givlomh” one notch to the left on your keyboard.

        • TonyMann

          clever. I’m givlomh stealing that.

        • StanChaz

          childish mentality worthy of a fourteen year old

        • OWilson

          You gave away my password! :)

    • Red Ruffensor

      Givlomh! Hahaha!

  • Stenka Razin

    When young in the ‘50’s I used to love bananas. Now the Cavandish has tasted like s**t for 50 yrs. let it die and find another type.

    • orenv

      THere are many types of awesome bannanas out there, but you have to live in a tropical place apparently to enjoy them. I like the small ones. Some are absolutely awesome and sweet when cooked. Some are starchy when cooked.

  • John C

    Does this inevitably happen with every monocultured species, I wonder?

    • Jackie

      Yes – the same thing is happening to “Knock Out” roses due to their heavy planting in Texas and to “Red Tip” photinias before that.

      • John Thompson

        To be fair roses always had problems with mildew and other issues, the more they were selected for beauty the less resistant they were.
        I have plenty of wild roses that are nearly invincible – really difficult to get rid of no matter what you try. And of course they have tiny blooms that are not much to look at.
        The Red tips also always had issues, and they were selected for beauty too, yes they are more red now vs in the wild.
        But once they are mass planted it absolutely makes them more susceptible to the problems they already had.
        At our prior home we had about 400 feet of hedge (outside Houston).
        We alternated red tips, holly and ligustrum.
        Did not have any issues.
        What was interesting was how each different plant did better in various parts of the yard (more sun exposure favoring red tips), including parts where we could not tell why one did better than another.
        The soil all seemed pretty similar, but it probably wasn’t.
        Farms rotate crops so that diseases don’t set in.
        I wouldn’t hesitate to alternate types of plants – but it does give a more mixed, less formal look to the hedge.

    • Maia

      It’s like an invitation to insects, funji,and other plagues, when you grow only one kind of plant by the hundred thousands. There is a way around this: plant a mix of crops with a border of wildflowers. But Big Ag is allergic to sensible ways of growing food.

      • Eric Bjerregaard

        And consumers are allergic to the high prices farmers using your suggestions would have to pay.

        • nik

          When the particular crop plant becomes extinct, then no one profits, big Ag or other.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Gros Michele is not extinct and neither will the Cavendish. The work on Genetic engineering them is well underway. “James Dale, a researcher at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia reported that he’d created two strains of TR4-resistant Cavendish using genes borrowed from other species. Two separate varieties, one with genes from a banana resistant to TR-4, and another with genes from a nematode, remained disease-free after three years.”

          • nik

            As far as the general public is concerned, they are or will be extinct, as they will not be cultivatable in mass.
            Genetically engineered versions are effectively a different plant, and are a long way down the line, before they will be producible in commercial quantities, and allowed to be released upon the public.
            Whether the public will accept them is another matter.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Like you, the general public will be wrong. The GE version is not a different plant any more than different varieties of broccoli are different plants. They are not a long way down the line. They are almost ready for release and will be gradually accepted. Just as the GE papaya was.

          • nik

            As far as the commercial production of the two bananas are concerned, and the general population, they will be extinct as general mass food products..
            There’s a difference between interbreeding or cross breeding plants of the same species, and injecting genes from entirely different plants or organisms into another,= GM.
            A lesson; it was judged by scientists that a disease could not cross a ”species barrier” but ‘mad cow disease’ proved them wrong, by passing from sheep, to kill both cows, and to also then kill humans.
            Therefore, I personally would not eat a food with Nematode genes injected into it, Nematodes destroy food plants, so eating infected food would be stupid, as they might well destroy those that eat them.
            Eating Nematode genes injected into a food plant would be equivalent to playing Russian roulette with infected food. The results would not be predictable.
            eg. Some foods have ‘bulking agents’ mixed in with them, roughly equivalent to putting wood sawdust in bread to make it heavier. They are considered indigestible therefore it is considered that they will have no effect when they are consumed.
            One of these foods is coconut milk, and the particular agent was cotton waste. It gave me a reaction, and a head to toe rash.
            So much for it having ”No effect.”
            History is littered with disasters caused by so called scientists classing a substance as harmless, which then prove to be anything but harmless. One prime example was Thalidomide, and some of the results of the destructive effects on developing fetuses, are still with us today. Most have died prematurely.
            Definition, Scientist, a person who knows a lot about very little, and prone to causing disasters.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Irrelevant baloney. You already have DNA that is the same as nematodes in you. Some nematodes are beneficials. If some one put a filler in another product. It is called fraud and has nothing to do with the fact that we will have GE bananas. Scientists have known for many moons that some diseases cross species barriers. If some were wrong on an unrelated topic. That is also not relevant. GE derived crops are as safe as any and sometimes the process happens by accident in dirt. Instead of a nice clean lab. See sweet ;potatoes.

          • nik

            You have missed the point with filler. It is a permitted substance because it is considered it will have no effect, as it is indigestible.
            That was wrong!

            Scientists may have known, ”for many moons” that diseases can cross the fantasy ‘species barrier’ but that still did not prevent the mad cow disease disaster, and the deaths of humans who consumed the infected meat.
            They were wrong!

            If a gene transplant can happen by accident, it is likely that its a ‘natural event.’
            Humans injecting unrelated genes int a food plant is not, and they have no way of knowing that it is safe, as they cannot test it on the whole of humanity to prove it so.

            Fact; it was considered that a quarantine zone around GM plants of half a kilometre was sufficient to confine the pollen and prevent cross contamination.
            Bees fly further than that, and during the 60’s, air sample tests were taken in the stratosphere, and they collected pollen in the filters.
            They were wrong!

            Pollen can encircle the Earth, there is no way to confine it except in a hermetically sealed laboratory.
            Monsanto having infected farmers crops with their GM pollen’s, is busy suing them for it.

            Where money and profit is concerned, safety of humans has prove to be of no consequence.

            Scientists have been proven wrong so many times with their assertions that things were safe, that only a fool would trust their words.

            I am not a fool!

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            You are a fool. You think(?) that any error by a scientist in the past applies to GE crops. Wrong. The device you typed on worked. Why Scientists. Planes fly? Scientists. Autos? Scientists. Chemistry? scientists, Medicines? Scientists. Rennet for cheese? scientists, Insulin? scientists. No biotech company has sued for accidental cross pollination.

          • nik

            Planes fly?
            Yes, but they also crash, and kill hundreds of people.
            hundreds of people have died or been maimed from ‘unexpected’ effects of drugs, that have then subsequently had to be withdrawn.
            Accidental cross pollination?
            No biotech company has sued?
            Monsanto has sued dozens of people. There is even a Farmers co-op set up in the New England states to fight the legislation that Monsanto is using to sue them.
            One farmer who was growing specialist ‘bio’ foods, had to burn his whole crop, or pay Monsanto for every kilo or pound he harvested, solely because of cross pollination contamination. Any farmer whose crops are found to be contaminated with Monsanto’s GM Franken-food genes will be their victims.
            I am a fool?
            If so, I’m a well informed fool. I am also educated to masters level in engineering, so am not exactly ignorant of science, and also its limitations.
            You on the other hand?
            Seem to be ignorant of some of the facts of the world. Perhaps because you spend your life cocooned in a laboratory? Perhaps you should get out a bit more and find out about the real world.
            It may be a revelation!

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            You are a fool and not informed. Look up the court papers. They have not sued for accidental cross pollination. As to that nonsense in bio foods post the actual links. As for the other technologies. the ;point is that they are used, trusted and yet they all have a greater risk of failure than GE crops. Which, BTW have had zippo failures as to safety. they need to toss you out of school.

          • nik

            You had best wallow in your ignorance!
            Nothing I say will change that, unless you actually do some research for yourself.
            Monsanto sue, IF they are not paid for the crops that have been contaminated.
            Check it out.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Unlike you, I am not ignorant as I looked up the case documents. Bowman guilty of violating patent laws Schmeiser guilty of theft for violating patent laws. Post just one case where Monsanto sued for accidental cross pollination. Good Luck.

          • nik

            I notice how you have sidestepped ALL the other issues mentioned, and have singled out just one.
            I suppose you also believe that atmospheric CO2 causes ‘global warming’!

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Global warming is not relevant. neither is much of anything you have brought up. You arte the one side stepping by ignoring the central issue. Bananas, which will be GE and accepted. Just as the papaya was.

          • nik

            Thats your opinion only, one among the remaining several billion inhabitants of the world.
            It remains to be seen if it is the rest of the worlds opinion, starting with the EU, where import of GM modified seeds, crops and foods are banned.

            Just to satisfy my curiosity, do you believe that CO2 causes global warming?

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            You really need to look stuff up before typing. they grow GE corn in Spain and most of the EU imports GE crops for animal feeds.

          • nik

            Animals are a little different from humans, not a lot, but its noticeable to most, and they dont get to choose their food, unlike humans.
            However, the ban on GM foods is spreading country by country, and can be expected to increase. Part of the problem is that crops have been modified to withstand excessive amounts of herbicides, and pesticides, so they are then contaminated with those substances. This has caused ill health in some animals that have been fed with GM foods.
            some reports below;
            (If the link is not removed.)
            So far 19 countries have an outright ban on GM, and others have controls.

            Just to satisfy my curiosity, do you believe that CO2 causes global warming?
            Dont be shy!

          • JoeFarmer

            “I am a fool?”

          • nik

            Thats your problem, not mine.

          • JoeFarmer

            You would be mistaken, but that seems to be typical of you.

          • Maia

            Eric and company are true believers: GE methods are infallible and any who question that in any way are “fools”.
            Don’t let them get you down. :)

          • nik

            Thanks, they dont.

      • hyperzombie

        Not really. The best way is to rotate crops and use proper a IPM to keep pest pressure to a minimum. If you grow multiple crops in the same are at the same time, it is very difficult to target and eliminate all the pest pressures, which will make it even more difficult to control these pests in subsequent years.

    • The Norwalk Avenger

      The Irish potato blight happened for exactly the same reason. There is a really, really excellent book called The Botany of Desire that explains this. The same is true of apples in the US. We only sell 4-5 varieties. That whole “an apple a day keeps the doctor away?” yeah, that was right up there with “milk. it does a body good”. The Andean natives never had issues with potato blights, which is where potatoes basically came from, and that’s because they cultivated hundreds of different types.

      • MikeofAges

        Eat an avel afore gwain to bed, make the doctor beg for his bread.

      • hyperzombie

        The Irish potato blight happened for exactly the same reason.
        Not really. The potato blight is caused by cool damp weather + pathogen, it is like a fungi and can only reproduce during cool damp weather, which Ireland has plenty of. Growing only potatoes just made the famine even worse. We still fight potato blight and late tomato blight to this day.

        The USA sells dozens of apple varieties, not 4 or 5.

        • Eric Bjerregaard

          Correct. Courtland, Delicious, Golden Delicious, McIntosh, Honey Crisp, Empire, Gala, Rome, and Jonathans are just a few of them.

          • hyperzombie

            I don’t get it? Where do these people shop? 7-11 Quicky mart? Every store that I go to has more than 4 types of apples.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Really, Sometimes I wonder about the mental abilities of some folks. I haven’t lived in Michigan for over 35 years and could come up with that list in just a few seconds. Do these folks think they can just make up junk and no one will question them?

      • Damo

        Varieties are too closely related to make a difference.

        As for apples, you could have a dozen different varieties on the same tree!

    • hyperzombie

      Not really, some plants like commercial bananas are very susceptible to diseases because they are all clones. Bananas are grown from sprouts that grow off the main plant, so they are clones. Potatoes are sort of the same thing because they are grown from the tubers of adult plants and they have little genetic diversity.

    • Maia

      And that’s why so many zillion pounds of pesticides, fungicides, etc have to

      be used for monocropping, because those acres of single kinds attract
      their enemies more readily than mixed crops. Also the soil is more
      depleted by growing a single crop, rather than mixing with nitrogen
      fixers such as clover and vetch, and other soil-feeders, which
      monocroppers see as “weeds” to dump Roundup on.

      • Eric Bjerregaard

        Wrong again, We spray glyphosate. It doesn’t work when dumped. Single crop rotations break up pest life cycles.We use Nitrogen fixers as cover crops. We have also discovered that mixed plantings are hard to run combines through and require hand harvesting. thus poor folks would not be able to afford the increased food prices.

        • Maia

          Spray, dump, dribble, don’t care how you dispense it…
          News bulletin! Us “poor” folks are eating organic, Eric, in our community gardens, backyards and co-op stores.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            That is why you are poor. Next time sell that high priced stuff that isn’t any better for you than conventional to gullible rich folks and quit being poor.

          • Maia

            Right, we could all become wealthy if we just switched to SAD! :)
            Perfectly possible to eat healthy organic food and not spend any more money than those who eat processed junk food and dinners out at pizza parlors.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            straw man. No none made that claim. Try comparing apples to apples.

      • JoeFarmer

        It’s always entertaining to hear from people who have never spent one day on a farm in their life!

        • Maia

          Always entertaining to have people who don’t know what they are talking about, chime in with pronouncements on what I or others have done or haven’t!

          • JoeFarmer

            Your post proved you have no agricultural knowledge. You should write about things you actually know something about, agriculture isn’t it.

          • Maia

            You’re wrong, farmerjoe. But I’m not giving up any details. You haven’t earned my trust. Quite the opposite.

          • JoeFarmer

            Oh, so you’re trying to make it a secret that you know nothing about agriculture. Good luck with that.

          • Maia

            :) Good luck to you in your personal relations.

      • Damo

        I am sure you are correct about monocroppers. Know any? I don’t.

  • OWilson

    It’s always the hyped, “WE”” that gets me.

    In the small frig in my new home in the DR there are typically at least 2 kinds of bananas for eating and cooking, and I haven’t seen one yet that remotely resembles the assembly line Dole/Chiquita assembly line product. :)

  • John Thompson

    Seems like if I were looking to genetically modify a variety I would use the Gros Michel.
    The resistance will come from the genetics you introduce, so why not use a better banana’s genetics for everything else?

    • KateGladstone

      I’ve read that the Gros Michel is actually extinct — and that this, oddly, explains why our bananas today don’t taste quite as good as artificial banana flavoring tastes: the artificial flavoring was based on the taste of the Gros Michel.

      • MacLir

        Not quite accurate; Gros Michels have more of the “banana” chemical than Cavendish, but the artificial flavor is the pure form. Note that the flavor is the same chemical whether “natural” or “artificial.”

        • KateGladstone

          Thanks for the info!

      • Eric Bjerregaard

        Not extinct. Just limited to small areas of production and backyard/local growers.

        • KateGladstone

          Good to know!

      • Jaakko Hovinen

        But artificial banana flavouring tastes absolutely awful.

        • KateGladstone

          I actually think it tastes good. I would happily eat bananas that all tasted like that.

    • Good4U

      I would prefer the Gros Michel, but the entire industry (Chiquita, DelMonte, etc.) that serves North America and Europe has designed their infrastructure toward the dwarf Cavendish. Bringing back Big Mike and its cousins (Lacatan and many other named varieties) would be a monumental task. The banana plantations of Central America and Africa that are equipped to handle the dwarf Cavendish could all benefit from the TR4 transgenic resistance modification at the outset, then the banana companies could apply the same active principle(s) to the other, older varieties as market demands dictate. Keep in mind too that not only the AAB (edible) bananas are susceptible to F. oxysporum f. sp. cubense race 4, it’s the ABB cooking bananas, otherwise known as plantains, that are likewise susceptible to F. oxysporum f. sp. cubense and its multiple races. Thus, it’s not just the spoiled uber-fed customers in the first world that will be impacted, it’s the subsistence farmers in the impoverished countries that need this genetic fix ASAP.

  • Frank Martens

    Thailand must have 10 billion bananas on public and private property. In the town of Maetang in Chiang Mai province, there is a corporate banana field of one thousand (1,000) banana trees. I live in a Chiang Mai city/suburb. Within a 1/4 mile or .4 km circle, there is a minimum of 25,000 bananas.Cut the bullshit about Banana shortages which are only for getting price hikes. There has ALWAYS been a “banana blight”, disease. Every day there is a banana blight, new or continuing, somewhere in the world.
    THIS CORPORATE AND GOVERNMENTAL PROPAGANDA NEEDS TO STOP. This is food Propaganda meant to make people pay more to eat.

    • Uncle Al

      Amen. Convenient problems (solved with more money) are false flags.

    • Eric Bjerregaard

      The banana disease is real and the local varieties have shipping or other issues that are preventing them being used for export. If they could be used as is. the farmers would simply start including them.

    • Good4U

      You are sadly mistaken, and until you actually learn something about plant pathology, particularly as it applies to banana agriculture, you have no point. This disease is real, and it can’t be controlled with words, particularly yours.

  • BossySnowAngel

    What about DNA splicing of the Gros Michel with Cavendish. GMO opponents to the contrary would rail, but the result could be a tastier, easier to ship product. BTW, for those who like to rant about GMO, nothing we eat today is the same as what our hunter/gatherer ancestors ate. The wheat from Turkey was hard to chew, the apples were small and sour and quite often we ate something more like goat than beef.

  • Mark E. Kendrick

    How can a publication discuss concerns over bananas without mentioning Ecuador once- the worlds largest net exporter of bananas?

    • Good4U

      Ecuador grows dwarf Cavendish too, as well as the former Gros Michel types. Just smaller plots of them, and they are not a reliable supplier. Ecuador is sort of like the farm team for major sports leagues, from which bananas are sourced as a last resort for exporting to the fat folks in North America and Europe in times of shortage elsewhere (hurricanes, political unrest, etc.). The bad news is Ecuador’s soils will ultimately become infested with F. oxysporum f. sp. cubense race 4 too, just as they have been with the previous races. All bananas need this genetic fix ASAP.

  • Ken Albertsen

    I grow several types of bananas in northern Thailand, tho not commercially – but just for me and friends. I’ve had luck with ‘red bananas’ which are similar to Cavendish (which I also grow). Red bananas are supposedly healthier. For taste: Cavendish has a sugar aftertaste, whereas red bananas have a honey aftertaste.

    • nik

      I’d love to try them, but a shopping trip to Thailand every couple of weeks is not feasible.
      Are there any that will grow in Europe, and fruit?
      Loads of people here in the Dordogne, France, grow banana plants as a garden decor plant, but they have insufficient sunlight and warmth to ripen fruit.

      • Eric Bjerregaard

        The Red ones I have tried are very temperature sensitive. They will stop growing when night time temps drop into the lower 40s and their leaves will turn lower. There are some that will put pout new growth in winter warm spells in Florida. when ones like Ai Ai and Jamaican Red and Green will just sit there. Here are a few that will grow more actively in cool weather. Dwarf Orinico, Ice Cream, Dwarf Ice cream, Apple, Raja Puri and Pineapple Raja Puri.

        • hyperzombie

          Starting to warm up here,, Warm spell coming soon. Lots of sun lately.

          • Eric Bjerregaard

            Ouch, This was our last normal type day for the next 6 We will have 5 consecutive freezing nights and highs well below normal. Which is 65 this time of year. I was down in Delray Beach painting a new office last week, Royal and coconut palms are common there. It is less than a 5 hour drive. Huge climate difference.

          • JoeFarmer

            We’re forecast for a low of -20 F tonight, glad to see you got to enjoy it first!

    • Ken Albertsen

      Hi Nik, ‘red bananas’ propagate as easily as Cavendish – from sprouts. They’re dark pink on the outside, turning slightly red/yellow when ripe. On inside they’re nearly identical to Cavendish. I eat bananas from my garden which are tree-ripened, so they taste better than supermarket types which are picked very green. I’ll ship ‘starter root’ to anyone seriously interested, though getting them into the US could be near impossible.

  • Ken Albertsen

    I bought bananas once, at a market near Acapulco Mexico. It’s only slight drawback was it had some seeds. However, the squat banana was slightly pink inside and had a wonderful peachy taste.

    • Good4U

      Right…that was a plantain. It’s an ABB type, meant for cooking. The dessert banana is an AAB type. Very different uses, and genetics.

  • Eric Bjerregaard

    How about using GE techniques on already resistant varieties to improve shipping qualities and thus flavors.

  • jonathanpulliam

    Chiquita Brands is alleged to employ security firms in the countries where it has plantations which abuse, threaten and murder those among their workforce who protest the squalid conditions/meagre pay.

    • Isaac Argesmith

      I mean they toppled entire governments in the past along with Dole with the help of the US and basically made entire countries work like slaves for them for decades now.

  • alan reyes

    All commercial agriculture is essentially monoculture. All farmers since farming began grow the fewest, best producing varieties possible. Only your niche ,farmer’s market, farmer grows multiple s m all batches of different varieties. Farming is about bulk of the same crop and always will be.

    • Maia

      “Commerical” is the giveaway word. Your “conclusion” makes sense only if you ignore all contrary evidence from indigenous growing practices which most of the time intermix species of plants based on the different strengths and properties of each, as well as fallowing, alternating crops, wild borders, trees mixed with crops, and many more with hundreds of times more experience behind them than extractive, profi-maximizing “commercial” practices.

      • alan reyes

        Yes,we are discussing commercial agriculture. Your examples are useful for non-commercial , subsistence farming. But for thousands of years, from Egyptians to Chinese to Iowa, civilization level farming is monoculture.

        • Maia

          What does “civilization level” actually mean? Because so much depends on your definition. You can define it so that your point seems true (always been monocultures and nothing else) or define it so that other ways are recognized and respected.

          • alan reyes

            Being recognized and respected is not the issue. Commercial is about civilization level quantity. Quantity of crop is the key. It is one thing to grow bushels of crop and a totally different type farming to create millions of tons to feed a civilization. From the Maya to today’s Canada, civilization requires commercial monoculture farming to attain quantity.

          • Maia

            Your comment did not address my question, but from what you did say, it looks like I was/am correct to assume that by “civilization” you merely mean above certain numbers of humans. I don’t at all agree with this, or that “quantity of crop is the key”. You are leaving out: not depleting the soil, poisoning the soil, creating toxic run-off into waterways, growing more densely nutritious crops, reducing use of all “cides” in favor of relatively harmless methods of keeping down unwanted plants and insects (such as mulching and “wild borders”), fairly treating/paying farm workers, and more. ALL of these are ignored in your “”quantity of crop” philosophy. Ever heard of Ecosophy? A whole ring of keys.

          • alan reyes

            You really need to visit a modern commercial farm. All those good things are done in a modern farm. No one has more concern for preserving the land than the person farming that land. My point though is that having done all those good things and more, modern commercial farmers plant a monoculture crop of hundreds of acres of more as they produce many tons of food. That is a problem for reasons of disease and insect propagation but planting small tracts of crop is not the game. Commercial farming requires huge acreage of the most profitable crop using big, expensive machines in order to stay in business.Modern farming is all about technology, genetics and land management. The irony of our times is so few people work to feed the world so so many have no concept of the miracle of modern commercial farming. Whole civilizations used to rise and fall with the success or failure of local crops. Now, agriculture is so successful that mass crop failures are very rare. But, as this article shows, farming is a contest between the farmer and all the organisms that would eat the crop besides people. Like antibiotics, the very success creates the potential for future failure. But no civilization of size has ever found an alternative to mass planting of monoculture crops. It is a problem.

          • Maia

            Sorry, but what you say is just not true on most very large commercial farms, I wish it were otherwise…and it could be.
            I have definitely seen modern commercial farms: thousands acres of monocropping, tons of poisons that kill soil organisms as well as their intended targets, artificial simplified fertilizers, growth stimulants, compacting of soil by gigantic machinery spewing fumes, run-off that causes agal blooms….
            You can have a large farm and not do any of this stuff! But that’s not the industry model. Unless you live in Russia?? (Putin just vowed to grow all food organically, as did Cuba a long time ago.)
            Haven’t you read the research showing how we are losing topsoil at alarming rates? Fouling waterways? Poisoning beneficial insects?On and on. Nothing future about any of this, it’s happening now.
            Youre definition of success is still quantity.
            But real success actually means quality and quantity sustain each other in a dynamic balance.

  • James Huse

    It has been fixed by crisper


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