In a small market on the South Pacific island of Raiatea, the women laughed in astonishment when I told them we had only one variety of banana in Canada. As I spoke to them in fractured French, they offered me a tiny brown-skinned banana with a buttery texture. By the time our conversation ended, they had given me samples of half a dozen varieties, assuring me there were lots of others, though nowhere near as many as when they were girls.
Now the Cavendish, the sole banana widely available in North America, may disappear from our grocery shelves. In an interview for National Public Radio, banana expert Dan Koeppel talkes about the impact of monoculture and why our insisting on more varieties may be the only thing that will save the banana split.
The last monocropped banana, the tastier Gros Michel, succumbed to Panama disease (a fungal wilt) during the first half of the 20th century. That’s when the Cavendish came to the fore, because of its resistance to the blight and other common banana diseases.
Writing in The Scientist, Koppel describes the work of Randy Ploetz (Tropical Research and Education Center, University of Florida), who discovered in the late 1980s that a new strain of Panama disease was attacking the Cavendish. Called Tropical Race 4, it “has spread across Asia, into the Pacific, and to Australia, where it has devastated the island country’s banana industry.”
Photos from Cathryn Wellner
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