Bananas: An uncertain future for America’s favorite fruit

A fungus known as "Panama disease" threatens the Cavendish banana. (AP)

WASHINGTON — They’re sliced into cereal and eaten as snacks, but these days, growers are increasingly worried about the future of America’s favorite fruit: the Cavendish banana.

It’s being threatened by a killer fungus commonly known as “Panama disease.”

Reporter Dan Koeppell followed the progress of this relentless fungus for almost a decade.

In an article for Popular Science, he explains how the bug has traveled from one region of the world to another, destroying virtually every Cavendish plant in its path.

When he first started writing about the disease in 2005, it was only in a few Asian countries — most notably Taiwan and Indonesia. But before long, it was also found in China and Australia.

Now it’s causing havoc for the banana crop in Mozambique — a country trying to build up its banana export industry. A huge plantation started by Chiquita in the southern African country has been wiped out by Panama Disease. The farm was stated with help from workers from Central America, who repeatedly traveled back and forth between their home countries and Africa in 2011.

Koeppell says the big question now is: did these workers bring the fungus back with them by inadvertently bringing infected dirt across the ocean? It wouldn’t take much to get the fungus into the soil of the Americas, where it could spread rabidly, crippling a crop primarly bound for consumers in the United States.

Agricultural experts believe the best option is to encourage the development of alternative types of bananas, which are resistant to fungal infection. Koeppell writes that India has 600 varieties alone with more flavor than the Cavendish, which locals refer to as “the hotel banana.”

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