Global Banana Supply At Risk ?

Banana growers across the world are bracing for the impacts of a new killer fungus strain that spreads in part due to rain.

Bloomberg Business reports that a type of Fusarium wilt, a common plant fungus, has made the jump across several continents and threatens the world’s most popular banana breed, the Cavendish.

A similar epidemic struck Latin America in the 1950s and wiped out their supplies of Gros Michel bananas, which prompted harvesters to switch to the now widespread Cavendish variety.

Because this fungus variety so readily travels through heavy rains, runoff and other means, it spells a nightmarish scenario for producers like Del Monte.

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According to PanamaDisease.com, the wilt works on healthy banana crops through the soil, invading the plants’ vascular systems and killing off scores of fruits. Once the disease hits a patch of soil, it prevents future banana growth in the area.

This new strain popped up in the ’90s and has killed banana crops in Asia, Africa and Australia, but has yet to reach Latin America, which accounted for 13 million tons of bananas in 2012, according to a UN report.

However, if the current trend continues, the disease, which spreads through soil, water and likely air, will have a massive effect on the monocultural market.

“We don’t have anything that can replace the Cavendish,” Wageningen University plant researcher Gert Kema told Bloomberg.

Increasing plant diversity is out of the question as a solution in the short term, but there are counter measures to prevent the disease from spreading to vital production centers in Latin America.

Growers in Ecuador are fumigating all containers arriving at their facilities to prevent the wilt from spreading and a multi-national effort is underway to defend against the disease.

One Australian farm was put under quarantine last March when the fungus was detected, but the shutdown did little to prevent the disease from spreading.

“History is repeating itself,” journalist and banana researcher Dan Koeppel said. “If you look at the map, this disease is marching.”

 

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