World's banana supply threatened

Fungus and disease threaten Cavendish banana variety

December 17, 2013

The world’s supply of bananas is under threat from plagues of bugs and fungal infections which could be disastrous if they continue to spread, researchers say.

A deadly new fungus has been found on several plantations and has the potential to wipe out the world’s banana supply. Scientists fear that if the banana fungus spreads further, the popular Cavendish banana could become critically threatened.

A Scientific American report warned of a variant of banana-eating fungus which is currently threatening key plantations around the world.

The government in Costa Rica, one of the biggest suppliers of the fruit, has already declared a “national emergency” over the state of its crop.

The fungus causes the incurable Panama disease, or Fusarium wilt, that rots bananas. In the 1950s, another strain of the banana fungus nearly wiped out the Gros Michel cultivar, one as common as the Cavendish variety. After the fungus decimated banana populations in Central and South America, producers switched to the Cavendish, which was resistant to the strain of fungus at the time.

However, the fungus is not the only threat to the world’s supply of bananas. Last week, Costa Rica declared a “banana emergency” due to an outbreak of insects that feed on the fruit and leave unsightly blemishes. Though the attacked bananas are still edible, they are not aesthetically suitable for export, which is a major cash cow for the Latin American country.

Combined with the threat of bugs, researchers said the this strain of fungus could threaten banana exports across the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean- which accounts for more than 80 per cent of the world’s supply.

To combat mealy bugs and scale insects, banana producers in Costa Rica will be allowed to use pesticides and biological control agents on their crops. However, to fend off the possible fungal attack on Cavendish populations, the answer may be to use a method that’s worked in the past: Find a fungus-resistant banana variety to replace the vulnerable crop.

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