The first time I heard that banana was “going extinct,” I kind of ignored it. I mean, one paranoid lunatic screaming on the internet does not a fact make - you know what I mean? But after reading about it another dozen times over the next several years, it’s clearly NOT a paranoid lunatic screaming on the internet. It appears as if banana extinction is legit.
Anyway, going back to 2015 is when I came across this Huffpost article called: “Your Favorite Banana Is Facing Extinction As Deadly Fungus Spreads.” From the article:
“Before 1960, your grandparents and great-grandparents were eating better bananas. Called Gros Michel, they were tastier, bigger and more resilient than the bananas found in supermarkets worldwide today ... So why can’t we too enjoy the robust creaminess of the Gros Michel, once the world’s export banana? Turns out, the species went virtually extinct in the 1960s thanks to an invasive and incurable fungus that wiped out most Gros Michel plantations around the world. That explains how the Cavendish — the blander banana we now eat — grew in prominence. It tasted worse and was less hardy than the Gros Michel, but the species seemed able to resist the fungal invasion, known as “Panama disease.”
That is, it was able to.”
So, back in 1960’s they knew all about this banana killing disease but thought that they had figured it out by creating a “blander” banana that was more resilient to this Panama disease.
Okay. Sounds good. Bananas saved. But now it looks like a new disease called Tropical Race 4 (TR4) is killing the Cavendish. According to wikipedia:
“This virulent form of fusarium wilt has wiped out Cavendish in several southeast Asian countries and has recently spread to Australia, India and Mozambique. It has yet to reach the Americas; however, the soil-based fungi can easily be carried on boots, clothing, or tools. This is how TR4 travels and will be its most likely route into Latin America. Cavendish is highly susceptible to TR4, and over time Cavendish will almost certainly be eliminated from commercial production by this disease.”
Okay. Sounds bad. Bananas endangered (again). The banana industry is huge. And, I mean - colossal. There are entire Latin American regions where the banana industry is so important they are literally called “banana republics,” because they are that dependant on the corporations that maintain and export from said plantations.
The three big boys on the block are, Chiquita, Dole and Del Monte - all of which primarily have plantations in South America. So, again, while the TR4 hasn’t yet reached Latin America, if it does - that will literally mean the end of bananas as we know it.
Not necessarily 100% extinction but, obviously, no longer a fruit you would be able to find all year round. I mean, consider the fact that Gros Michel bananas are not 100% extinct, they are still grown in areas where Panama disease is not found, BUT, they export less than 1% of what they used to in the 1960’s before Panama disease devastated the crops. So, there’s that to think about.
Obviously, there are a lot of smart folks trying to solve this problem, but, as of yet nothing is working. It’s just one of those things were we can hope TR4 doesn’t reach Latin America.
But if it does, that’s pretty much banana game over.
If you want to read a more detailed version of the history of, and the potential banana apocalypse, I recommend: The Quest to Save the Banana.”