Monocropping once again is proving to be a risky venture in my not-so-humble opinion. It looks like bananas are once again at risk of Panama disease. 😦
I’ve done some reading and apparently back before the 1950’s the world’s favourite banana was the Gros Michel.
The Gros Michel cultivar of banana was the main banana crop before the 1950’s. That’s before Panama disease wiped out almost every Gros Michel banana plant in the world. Only Thailand was spared. Dwarf Cavendish was brought in to replace the Gros Michel as it is resistant to Panama disease. Or at least to the strain that wiped out Gros Michel. Since Panama disease can spread very easily and lives in the soil for up to 30 years it at least meant that banana farmers could continue to grow bananas in the same infected soil where Gros Michel couldn’t grow but… Well, it looks like Panama disease has come back to haunt banana farmers once again. And this time there is no resistant cultivar with which to replace them.
Dwarf Cavendish bananas are susceptible to Panama disease, a strain called Tropical Race 4 (TR4) and it appears that TR4 is on the spread. 😦 TR4 is in Australia under strict quarantine in Darwin and also in Queensland as of early 2014 from what I can gather although how long it stays contained is anybody’s guess. If I have learned anything from my garden it is that nature controls us, not us controlling it. For further information, check this link.
Scientists are doing what scientists do and are working hard to find or breed resistant cultivars. One of the problems with bananas is that they are all clones. Commercial bananas don’t have seeds (the wild ones do) so they are replanted from slips or other forms of cloned seedling. It means they are all the same and all just as susceptible as their neighbours to this devastating disease. Some scientists are trying to create a new breed with cross-pollination but bananas aren’t really suited to this in general so they’re having low success (still, some is better than one I guess) whereas others are frankensteining the banana with genes from all sorts of frightening sources. Check out this paragraph from the Wikipedia page on Panama disease.
Scientists are trying to modify the banana plant to make it resist Panama disease and many other serious banana afflictions ranging from fungal, bacterial, and viral infections to burrowing worms and beetles. Researchers are combing remote jungles searching for new wild bananas. Hybrid bananas are being created in the hope of generating a new variety with strong resistance to diseases. Genetic engineers are adding genes from altogether different fruits, vegetables, and even fish. Some believe the best hope for a more resilient banana is through genetic engineering. However, the resulting fruit also need to taste good, ripen in the correct amount of time, travel long distances undamaged, and be easy to grow in great quantities. Currently, no banana meets all of these requirements.
I don’t know about you but I’m not particularly interested in eating a banana with fish genes, are you? 😦 Once again, we humans are playing god to produce the perfect banana. Good taste, good green pick/transportable-ness, long shelf life, easy to monocrop and no seeds so that the general public will not have to adapt their banana habits in any noticeable way.
In my reading and research on bananas and Panama disease I came across lots of very interesting banana cultivars of which I’ve never heard. Bananas of different shapes and colours. Plantains (starchier bananas better eaten cooked) to small red bananas, false bananas that were a major crop in Africa and all sorts. I’m not a fan of bananas personally and our town’s one and only supermarket caters for the basic fruits and veggies so I wouldn’t anticipate seeing some exotic variety on their shelves anyway but have you ever heard of or better yet seen and eaten a red banana? If so, tell me all about it please! I’d love to know how they taste.
I found a spectacular picture and post about red bananas here if you’re interested. 😀
We may yet lose the banana from our supermarket shelves. Not this year, maybe not next but unless a resistant cultivar is bred or created by GM, eventually the TR4 will break containment. Nature does that. She won’t be bound by our rules or our walls. My little banana in my greenhouse has just become so much more than a fun to grow experiment and goal to self-sufficiency. I will only ever be able to clone it via pups growing from the mother plant but even so, if I can keep it warm and alive and get it to reach fruition (there’s a lot of if’s in that idea I can tell you)I will at least be able to give my kids bananas in years to come which seems to no longer be a certainty.
Will we learn the lesson from this Cavendish disaster waiting to happen? I doubt it. We didn’t learn from the Gros Michel disaster, instead we repeated exactly the same mistakes as first time around, simply replacing the Gros Michel with the Dwarf Cavendish. I believe we should all take note though and do our best to grow varieties of any given species whenever and wherever we can. If you have room for more than a single cultivar then plant 2 or more. I will continue to grow my tiny seed grown apples and see how they go over time. Maybe I won’t grow an apple considered to be commercially viable but maybe I will grow an apple that is tasty, crisp and juicy and suited to my very own local climate conditions (late frosts and very dry summers with hard bake clay soil). It’s well worth trying though in my opinion. 🙂