Via the South China Morning Post: Panama TR4 virus threatens to wipe out 90pc of world's bananas. Excerpt:
If you are reading this at your breakfast table, with a bunch of bananas in front of you, you should consider yourself lucky. Because bananas may soon disappear from your life, say some scientists. They are predicting a "bananageddon" in which 90 per cent of the bananas you see in the market today will be wiped out.
The culprit is a virus called Panama Tropical Race 4, which affects Cavendish banana trees. There are many varieties of banana, but the Cavendish commands more than 90 per cent of world trade, and until now they were resistant to most viruses.
But the Fusarium wilt caused by Panama TR4 is changing all that. The virus played havoc in Malaysia in the early 1990s. The Philippines, the only Asian country to rival the top Latin American exporters, is facing a major assault by the virus, while banana growing areas in southern China are also under attack.
After being confined to Asia and northern parts of Australia, the virus has jumped continents, surfacing in Jordan and Mozambique at the end of last year. This prompted the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation to issue a warning earlier this month as they called for urgent measures.
So far there has been no report of the virus yet from Ecuador, Costa Rica or Colombia, which grow the bulk of bananas that reach supermarkets across the world.
But Randy Ploetz, professor of plant pathology at the University of Florida is not hopeful. He says the virus may already be in Latin America. "The story on the Mozambique situation was that workers brought over to establish the plantations - some of them were from Latin America," he said. As the virus can spread through a small clump of dirt attached to a boot or a tool used on an infected farm, one can see why Ploetz is sceptical.
If the Cavendish is wiped out, we don't have another variety of banana to replace it as a mass commercial crop.
"There are hundreds of banana varieties," Dan Koeppel, author of The Banana: The fate of the fruit that changed the world, told the Sunday Morning Post by phone from Los Angeles. "But with global economic development and urbanisation, supermarkets have become the main outlet from where consumers get their bananas. That made the Cavendish variety the banana as they are the most suited for transport and storage across long distances."
This is not just the loss of an agreeable treat. Bananas are a staple food in many parts of the world. I still recall reading Moritz Thomsen's powerful book Living Poor, describing how at age 48 he joined the Peace Corps and went to Ecuador. There he found he could measure work by the number of bananas he and his Ecuadorian co-workers needed to eat to complete the job.