Thursday, June 19, 2008

Going Bananas

The NY Times has a great Op-Ed on the current problems with the banana industry. While it talks about the coming price jump (estimated to over $1/pound) due to floods in Central America and the rising cost of fuel, the more interesting story is the likely decimation of the variety of banana we in North America and the EU think of as THE BANANA. Apparently, the banana variety we consume is a Cavendish (a Chinese variety) that became the staple for industry in the 1960s, after the previous staple, the Gros Michel, was wiped out by a fungal epidemic. Now, a more virulent form of this fungal disease is attacking the Cavendish variety, which was previously immune.
Why is this significant, well for starters, pretty much the entirety of the banana industry is monopolized by the singular genetic variety Cavendish. Already, the effects of the disease on Asian plantations has been significant, and scientists speculate that it will hit Latin America sometime in the next 5-20 years.
Both traditional forms of cross-breeding and genetic engineering are being employed to create resistance and edible replacement crops, but the problem that cultivated bananas have become a monoculture cash-crop, and one that can't even reproduce on it's own (they don't produce seeds) will most likely just be repeated with whatever is designed to take the Cavendish's place. With the combination of factors facing the well-traveled banana, we'll see if it remains one of the developed world's favorite fruits much longer.
image above: map of world banana production

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