Well, we’ve been through this before a few years ago, but I’m afraid there isn’t any good news when it comes to bananas still going extinct. It’s all actually getting worse.
The same fungus that has been attacking plantations in Southeast Asia, in the 1960s, spread to Taiwan and China, then jumped to Pakistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Mozambique, and Australia has recently gotten to sort of the final frontier, South America. The problem is a fungus, a clone of the Panama disease called “Tropical Race 4”. It’s a strain of Fusarium oxysporum that has officially reached Columbia and Ecuador.
The fungus still cannot be killed by any sort of traditional chemicals and Columbia has declared a national emergency over this fungus. The infection cannot very well be stopped, because the fungus infects the soil and spreads from there.
Bananas are still going extinct and we don’t have much of a solution
The fungus has spread all over the world in Cavendish plantations – which are about 95 percent of the plantations in the world. The United Nations has urged the countries which export Cavendish bananas to come up with solutions for fighting the fungus. The problem is that Tropical Race 4 is a very slow-developing threat. As opposed to violent outbreaks like Ebola or Zika virus, this one takes a long time to spread from plant to plant. It infects the soil. So by the time the producers observe that they have a fungus problem in the plantation, it might already be too late to save the fruit.
Because it’s very hard to get rid of the fungus once it reaches a country, scientists aren’t sure exactly what the solution is. One of the possibilities is the quarantine of the affected bananas, in the hope that would stifle the infection. The other solution is engineering a new banana type that would be immune to the ravages of Tropical Race 4.
In fact, this has happened before, with Gros Michel bananas in the 1950s. Those actually went extinct and were replaced by the Cavendish bananas that we know and love today.
In the meantime, mentally add bananas to the things we might not enjoy in the future, like chocolate and coffee, for instance. And all of these to the list of things that might be way more expensive in the near future.
Till then, let’s enjoy bananas while we can. Don’t throw overripe bananas away, make something of them!