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'Panama Disease' Throws Banana Industry into Global Crisis

Apr 26, 2016 03:58 AM EDT
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CCTV footage shows men assault shopkeeper with avocados and bananas

Is this the end of the banana?

A new strain of disease has caused banana production to collapse in parts of Asia, Africa and Australia. Called the "Panama Disease," or "Fusarium wilt," the deadly fungus is obliterating the commercially popular Cavendish bananas, threatening Latin America's export industry.

According to FAO, bananas are the eighth most important food crop in the world. The spread of the Panama disease has grave repercussions for the economic trade, banana value chain and livelihoods of thousands worldwide.

"With 85 per cent of all bananas being produced for domestic consumption, you can imagine the impact of this disease on food security and livelihoods in developing countries," notes FAO in an article published in UN News Centre.

This has raised alarms for experts around the world, causing them to shift the International banana Congress from Costa Rica to Miami, following concerns that attendees would spread the disease via contaminated soil on their shoes, The Guardian reports.

Banana experts have scrambled to stop the disease that is wiping out the fruit across the world. According to Panamadisease.org, the epidemic has not happened since 1960s when Panama disease wiped out almost all banana plantations in Central and South America, wiping out at least $2.3 billion worth of the delicious and popular banana variety called Gros Michel, or Big Mike in extinction.

Producers subsequently adopted the Cavendish banana, which was deemed an inferior product but was resistant to the disease, Pix11 notes. Now that the fungus has spread again, experts are searching for new species that might replace the Cavendish variety.

In an interview with CNN, Inge Van den Bergh, a senior banana scientist at Bioversity International in Belgium shared that there are already "mutant" Cavendish bananas being tested in the Philippines and China. However, he said they're not necessarily as tasty or suitable for long-distance transport.

As a repercussion, bananas may be sold at higher prices in regions where the Cavendish bananas are exported such as North America and Europe.

With the disease resurfacing, FAO stresses the significance of using disease-free seedlings and shunning the spread of infected soil and planting materials from farms, through transportation, visitors or other means.

Furthermore, panamadisease.org notes that while problems related to Panama disease are complicated, there are some ways we can combat it, such as finding ways to keep growing susceptible cultivars, having multilevel solutions and venturing into more research towards crop protection, food security and innovation.

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