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Bananageddon – A Frightening Lack of Genetic Diversity

Touch the Soil News #510

For North Americans, bananas are primarily and imported food. Through market, production and uniformity considerations, the bananas North Americans enjoy is down to one variety – the Cavendish.

Back in the 50’s there was another variety called the Gros Michel banana. This banana was almost wiped out due to the “Panama” disease. The Cavendish banana was resistant to the “Panama” disease when production (particularly production intended for export) migrated to the Cavendish variety.

Today, the Cavendish banana is in danger of disappearing due to pressure of rising costs and disease made worse by a lack of genetic diversity in the realm of bananas. A new strain of the “Panama” disease is showing up in the Cavendish and has horticulturists and experts concerned. The risks are increasing for supply shocks to the global banana trade.

The Cavendish banana reveals how blind industrial food models are to genetic diversity (photo courtesy of Augustus Binu – CC 4.0).

In particular, if the disease spreads to the Caribbean and South America – where the Cavendish is grown for North America – there are no other commercial cultivars available to replace the Cavendish.

Biologists and economists are embarking on a new research program to improve understanding of the situation and develop solutions to save banana crops from disease. Teams from the Universities of Exeter and Oxford, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the NGO BananaLink are joining to combat what they’re calling ‘bananageddon’.

The good news is that there are over 1,200 different banana varieties around the world – a vast genetic pool that may well provide the genetics to create a whole variety of bananas resistant to the Panama disease.

Following is a rather “comic” video on the Cavendish banana and the threat of the Panama disease:

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