Is the Common Banana Doomed?

Popular Science, surely not a crazed/wacked gloomdoggling news source, presents a scary story suggesting that the banana as we know it is doomed.

Can This Fruit Be Saved?: The banana as we know it is on a crash course toward extinction. …

For nearly everyone in the U.S., Canada and Europe, a banana is a banana: yellow and sweet, uniformly sized, firmly textured, always seedless. Our banana, called the Cavendish, is one variety Aguilar doesn't grow here. “And for you,” says the chief banana breeder for the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Investigation (FHIA), “the Cavendish is the banana.”

The Cavendish—as the slogan of Chiquita, the globe's largest banana producer, declares—is “quite possibly the world's perfect food.” Bananas are nutritious and convenient; they're cheap and consistently available. Americans eat more bananas than any other kind of fresh fruit, averaging about 26.2 pounds of them per year, per person (apples are a distant second, at 16.7 pounds). It also turns out that the 100 billion Cavendish bananas consumed annually worldwide are perfect from a genetic standpoint, every single one a duplicate of every other. It doesn't matter if it comes from Honduras or Thailand, Jamaica or the Canary Islands—each Cavendish is an identical twin to one first found in Southeast Asia, brought to a Caribbean botanic garden in the early part of the 20th century, and put into commercial production about 50 years ago.

Anyone who knows about the perils of monoculture could write the next act of this story.

… in 1992, a new strain of the fungus—one that can affect the Cavendish—was discovered in Asia. Since then, Panama disease Race 4 has wiped out plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Taiwan, and it is now spreading through much of Southeast Asia. It has yet to hit Africa or Latin America, but most experts agree that it is coming.

And it's happened before, wiping out the precursor to the Cavendish and inspiring the song “Yes, We Have No Bananas”.

The only cheerful part of this story is that I like the sound of some of the other varietals. We have a choice of apples (and tasteless Red Delicious are being pushed out of the market); maybe a diversity of bananas next?

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4 Responses to Is the Common Banana Doomed?

  1. James Wimberley says:

    The article misses out the reason why bananas are necessarily a monoculture: the ones we eat are all from cloned plants of sterile mutants from a completely inedible parent. So bananas are uniquely vulnerable to disease. See here:

  2. Barry Freed says:

    I was living in Morocco in the mid ’90’s when various trade agreements (GATT, etc.,) started kicking in. I was living in a very urban and urbane city but one which was not at all cosmopolitan (if you can imagine that) and I was appreciative of certain goodies from home that made living there a little easier.

    However one consequence was that they had to open up their market to foreign produce including bananas. The bananas that were imported were the ones every American is familiar with and were bland and tasteless compared to the indigenous variety which quickly began to disappear from the local markets much to everyones’ – Moroccans and ex-pats- disappointment. Many times I heard Moroccans complain about the new tasteless bananas. I really don’t understand “free trade” at all.

  3. Chuck says:

    What happens when Avian Flu ( H5N1 ) covers the earth?
    1. Everyone , Everywhere, kills all their local chickens and ducks.
    2. Next, no more Chicken Salad.
    3. No more “Bejing” Duck.
    4. The Flu goes away.
    5. The survivors then try raising chickens again?
    But from what? All the chickens are gone.


  4. Randy Paul says:

    The Cavendish is crap. Give me an apple banana any day.

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