Bananas are one of the world’s most favorite fruit. Well, indeed most people don’t refuse bananas. Even minions love bananas, and apes are depicted to prefer this fruit a lot in movies and cartoons instead of any other fruits too.
The fruit is also said to be one of the most favorite berries to be consumed all over the world. Oh, if you haven’t realized yet, bananas are actually berry. And it is radioactive too, because of high potassium content that it has.
We are not talking about banana as overall object, but we are talking about what’s actually happening with all bananas across the world. There is something about bananas that most people don’t realize because we are fighting with COVID-19 nowadays.
What’s the thing? Will it threaten us? Here in this article we will tell you about it.
The ‘Coronavirus’ Of Bananas
This is the thing that’s been happening to all bananas across the world. While we are currently facing one of the deadliest viruses in the history, coronavirus, the plant is also facing its own version of it. It is called Panama disease.
Unlike coronavirus which is caused by a virus, Panama disease is caused by fungus called Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense (Foc). But even though it is different, just as coronavirus, the cure for the banana disease has not been found yet.
It has affected most banana-growing countries, starting from Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Australia, Philippines, Pakistan, Lebanon, even Latin America countries. The outbreak has become a world-wide pandemic since August 2019 after it arrived in the region mentioned latter.
Also called as Fusarium wilt, just like the name of the fungus, its first outbreak occurred in 1950s. The first Fusarium wilt outbreak wiped out the main variety grown banana named Gros Michel banana, which then replaced by Cavendish banana as the main variety we know nowadays.
But now, the fungus is also attacking the current main variety, Cavendish banana, and producers are worried about it. Farmers worry that what happened to Gros Michel would also happen to their Cavendish variety.
Symptoms Of Panama Disease
There are several known symptoms of Panama disease that can be identified from the leaves. However, the symptoms are divided into two categories, which can make it more difficult to be identified as the symptoms of the disease.
First is the yellow leaf syndrome. This syndrome makes the border of banana leaves yellowing. When it gets worse, it would lead to the bending of the petiole or the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem. This one is pretty easy to identify.
The next is green leaf syndrome that only happens in certain cultivar of banana. This one is harder to identify because the color of the leaves is not changing. However, the same effect of the petiole will also happen and the end result is the same.
The end result will make the whole plant collapse, since with proceeding infection the banana pseudostem will eventually split. All of those symptoms are visible to naked eyes, but the beginning of the infection is not.
The beginning actually happens in the roots and rhizomes. There, the pathogen blocks the plant’s pathways to transport water and nutrients to its whole body. All of the symptoms mentioned above are the result of this blockage. This is also why most farmers can only identify the disease after it is too late to do anything.
The Problem With Our Industry
The outbreak of Panama disease threatens the whole world’s banana production that even experts consider it can be the end of our banana consumption. But, what’s the real problem here? How can the outbreak eliminate all the bananas we lover so much?
Well, the truth is, most of the bananas grown in this world nowadays come from only one species, the Cavendish banana. The fungus may attack only one species at a time, but that one species is almost every single banana grown.
The Panama disease that we are facing today is not a new disease actually. Rather, it is an evolved version of the disease that attacked the Gros Michel banana in the mid-20th century. The disease has evolved into the current version that experts call as TR4.
“Bananas are undeniably among the most important fruits in the world and are a major staple food for millions of consumers. We cannot underestimate the impact the current TR4 pandemic could have on food security,” García-Bastidas, plant expert from University of Wageningen in Netherlands who completed his doctorate studying the pandemic, said.
He explained the first time he found out that the disease has become pandemic in 2019. “One minute I am on the farm, the next in the lab, the next explaining to the Colombian government minister that the worst has happened. For a very long time I could not sleep well. It was heart-breaking,” he told BBC.
New Normal For Bananas
When species-specific pandemic hits the particular species, if we had the alternatives then we should not be worried about it because we still have options. But since Cavendish banana is almost every species being cultivated, we are facing a problem here.
That’s why, we need to fight this disease in any means necessary. To prevent the total disaster, García-Bastidas suggested us to change our banana industry. Rather than using a single species of banana to support the whole world, he insists the industry to introduce more diversity into the crop.
“The fungus was so devastating because the bananas were all the same variety. We have hundreds of varieties of apples. Why not start offering different varieties of bananas?” Fernando García-Bastidas suggested.
Just as we have to face a new normal in the coronavirus pandemic, banana industry ought to do the same situation. The new normal is to introduce more varieties with their specific features even if they are less sweet and juicy compared to current hit Cavendish banana. That way, we can sit back and relax even if a disease is attacking one particular species.