A new strain of banana-killing fungus threatens to wipe out dominant breed


An easily spread strain of fungus is killing banana plants around the world. It's called Fusarium wilt and it attacks the top-selling banana breed, called the Cavendish.

Unfortunately, the banana growers' total reliance on this hardy, tasteless banana means there's no ready replacement.

While there are more than 1,000 types of bananas, many are consumed where they are grown or are inedible. To make money on exports, growers had to rely on a single variety to ensure uniformity and keep production costs low. Until the 1960s, that was the Gros Michel, which all but disappeared after a decades-long spread of what came to be known as Panama disease.

"The monoculture, the reliance on a single banana breed that makes all this possible — that makes the low margins work — also makes that fruit very susceptible to disruption," said Dan Koeppel, who has traveled to 30 countries to sample varieties and wrote Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. "The biggest problem is disease."

Image: William Cho. "Could I trade my banana with your cam?" Small trader at Monkey Forest, Ubud – Bali. Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic