I apologize for the break in my posts. For the past two weeks I was wrapped up in holiday craziness, art commissions, and painting my house. Now I am back! So for my second to last post for the year I am writing and illustrating about the oncoming banana decline (or extinction). This post is inspired by a recent Science Friday podcast.
Before I talk about the current threat to bananas I need to give you some historical context. The bananas we currently eat throughout the world, the Cavendish, was not common before the 1950’s. The “it” banana back in the day was the Gros Michel, a superior banana to the Cavendish in both flavor and ease of transport. Unfortunately the Gros Michel’s “reign” ended with the spread of the soil fungus Fusarium, commonly known as Panama Disease, which decimated crops throughout Latin America in the 1950’s. Panama Disease infects bananas through their root system and eventually infects the entire plant. The strain of Panama Disease that killed off the Gros Michel is known as Race 1. After the loss of the Gros Michel, banana producers began to grow the Cavendish which is resistant to Race 1. All is well in the world of bananas! For now…
Fast forward to the present, a new strain of Panama Disease known as Tropical Race 4 is currently killing off Cavendish bananas throughout Asia. It is only a matter of time before this strain makes landfall in Latin America where most banana production occurs. Once it infects the soil it will remain thus ending banana production. Currently there is no known cure and there is no replacement for the Cavendish. When Tropical Race 4 infects Latin American crops a major food source and economic resource will be no more. Goodbye banana bread
Why is Panama Disease so lethal to the Cavendish banana? Bananas are currently produced as a monoculture i.e. no other varieties just Cavendish 24/7. This helps increase production and yield a more consistent product. However this makes the Cavendish more vulnerable to infection. The pathogen, in this case Fusarium, can focus on just one type of plant and become an infection machine. By growing different varieties you will lower production and consistency but you may still have something to grow after an intense pathogenic attack because you are allowing your crops to adapt to the new crisis. A field of clones does not have that same capacity.
In the evolutionary arms race with pathogens (or predators), variety is more than the spice of life, it is the key to survival. But more about that next week…
About The Illustration:
Acrylic paint on canvas paper with micron pens for details. This image is available through Redbubble.
For More Information:
Everything you ever wanted to know about bananas or Panama Disease: http://panamadisease.org