The fungus that infects bananas has been known to scientists for 30 years. TR4 disease, or Panamanian disease, began in Asia. But in the past 10 years, it has rapidly spread, first to Australia, then to the Middle East and Africa, and finally reached South America, the region from which the countries of the Northern Hemisphere mainly import bananas. According to the BBC, more than 20 countries that produce bananas have been affected by the pandemic. Reducing the supply of fruits is not a horror story, but a real threat.
According to statistics , bananas and watermelons are champions among fruits. In 2018, more than 115 million tons of bananas were produced. In addition to taste, there is another reason for this popularity: bananas are a monoculture. There is only one variety that can be picked green, which is why it tolerates transportation well. Cavendish - the so-called banana from the supermarket. He was struck by the disease.
The first wave of Panamanian disease occurred in the 50s. Then the peasants cultivated another Big Mike banana variety. A fungal epidemic destroyed the plantations, and there was no mercy from it until another variety resistant to the fungus, Cavendish, was bred. But the story repeated itself, and now the fungus has already hit Cavendish. 70 years after the first wave of the corporation, monoculture is grown again and again rely on scientists. In 2019, an epidemic came to Colombia. The government in Bogota has declared a state of emergency in the province of Uraba, where 85% of all Colombian bananas are produced. Only quarantine helps. Authorities say that the fungus can remain in the soil for 20 to 50 years and not lose activity.
In Australia, scientists have developed a gene-modified variety of bananas that is resistant to TR4. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding research. But despite the fact that gene-modified foods are harmless, these bananas will not soon appear on the shelves. Both consumers and authorities are suspicious of them. There is another way - to grow other varieties of bananas. After all, there are more than a dozen of them in the world. Dan Berber, professor of ecology at the University of Exeter (UK), is also for the diversity and respect for the land on which bananas grow. "Cavendish" should be sprayed from 40 to 80 times per season from various pests. The soil suffers from this. If manufacturers fertilized the soil with manure and sowed microbes, disease resistance would increase dramatically.
But the main economic issue is the price. Now bananas are very cheap. Manufacturers save on everything. Peasants themselves will not be able to cope with the epidemic without subsidies, says Hans Dreiser, director of the crop department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations . It will take 10 to 15 years to breed and introduce new varieties.
And for 400 million people in the world, bananas are a staple food. If banana production decreases and their prices rise, this will become a social problem.