It’s one of the world’s top five staple foods and it’s under attack. The banana is being threatened by a disease that, if unchecked, could have disastrous consequences. CCTV’s Mark Niu filed this report from California.
Banana exports worldwide totaled $11 billion in 2015, with 60-percent coming from Latin America.
But now a disease, caused by three different fungi, called Sigatoka, is infecting the leaves of banana plants worldwide.
University of California-Davis professor Iaonnis Stergiopoulos says one of the most virulent forms, Black Sigatoka, is reducing banana yields globally by about 40 percent.
“These fungi, they are dangerous. They are spreading. Sigatoka has already spread in most areas that bananas are grown. When we say that bananas can be eradicated in 5 to 10 years, that goes to the most catastrophic scenario, can potentially be there, but it doesn’t mean it will happen,” Stergiopoulos said.
It can spread quickly through soil, water and even wind.
The lab’s researchers have sequenced the fungal genome, discovering how it becomes more virulent by utilizing the banana’s nutrients.
“By finding that out we can better defend ourselves against this fungus. Basically we are trying to understand our enemy, what our enemy does to the plants. I think we are getting to the root of it,” Stergiopoulos said.
Right now, the industry’s best protection is good hygiene and vigilant use of fungicides.
Breeding a new variety is difficult because the Cavendish type don’t have seeds.
Genetic engineering to create a resistant banana is also a possibility though it’s questionable whether the public will accept such a product.
But for the UC-Davis team, the focus is on understanding the disease, and creating whatever tools are necessary to ensure the banana’s survival.
For more on this issue, CCTV talked to Dan Koeppel, author of the book “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit that Changed the World”.