The banana must die (and only science can revive it)

The truth is that bananas are a marvel of design: easy to peel, simple to eat and comfortable to carry. Not only that: we can know their level of maturation just by looking at them and, eye to the dice, they can be grown throughout the year.

And it’s a shame. Because yes, the banana must die and must do it as soon as possible. At least, the banana as we know it. And it must die because, in fact, it is the only way to save it.

Let’s start with the basics: bananas are a natural phenomenon, a genetic accident and, if you allow me, a culinary aberration (although the latter is already a personal opinion). The banana is a seedless fruit.

We all know that the ‘function’ of fruits is to improve the spread of seeds. That is why, in one way or another, fruits have seeds that allow the reproduction of their species. But the banana, no. Well, our banana, no, the primitive banana and many wild species did have seeds.

Anatomy of a Banana

That is why bananas grow from pieces of roots. That is, not all bananas are of the same species, is that all bananas are the same banana. In fact, since 1960, they are clones of a single banana: the Cavendish banana.

Today, 99% of all bananas traded internationally are Cavendish. There are other local varieties, but they are not exploited commercially.

It was not always so. Before the 60’s, the king banana was another: the Gros Michel, a type of sweet banana that triumphed around the world. In 1950, Panama’s disease began to wreak havoc on the Gros Michel and, in less than a decade, ended production. When we talk about clones, the disease only has to learn to attack an individual, the little genetic diversity causes the rest to fall by its own weight.

It is not the first banana that dies

Cavendish also has problems

Farmers began to flee the disease looking for places where they were not yet, but all resistance was futile. In the end, the Vietnamese strain, Cavendish, resistant to the fungus of Panama, replaced the poor, forgotten (and dead) Gros Michel.

The bad news is that in recent years pests have cropped up that affect the Cavendish: black sigatoka, which blackens leaves, makes photosynthesis impossible, and reduces yields by more than half. In addition, it is very difficult to combat the disease: using the best combinations of fungicides, may require more than 50 applications before ending the pest.

And, last but not least, a variety of Panama’s disease (the Tropical Race 4) that has affected the Cavendish has emerged in recent years. It was located for the first time in the 1990s and today it is already raging throughout Southeast Asia. If TR4 crosses the Pacific, world banana production can be seriously compromised.

The joint action of TR4 and black Sigatoka is a deadly combo for the banana industry, but they are not the underlying problem: the basic problem is that after having seen how the Gros Michel disappeared due to radical monoculture practices, they have not Learned nothing. Nothing at all. We do not have a substitute for commercial bananas

We should not put all the bananas in the same basket

Ioannis Stergiopoulos, André Drenth and Gert Kema, three experts in botany and agronomy, argued in The Guardian that the only way to tackle the problem is to increase the diversity of our bananas. There are several hundred species of bananas in the world. It is true that the vast majority do not have the characteristics to replace the current bananas. But they can serve as a genetic basis for increasing the diversity of commercial bananas: that is, we can use them to create (two, ten or one hundred and fifty) new bananas

We have the tools to do this: genetic engineering and hybridization techniques. The banana genome has already begun to be sequenced. What we do not have is time. Because, although it seems impossible, the production of bananas could sink and reach historic lows in months. And no, we’re not ready yet.

 The banana must die (and only science can revive it)