The Last Banana Standing

Bananas are a popular fruit.  Not only are they funny (just say it five times fast), they come packed with good stuff, like potassium.  And even though there are drawbacks to the current banana marketing and distribution strategies, I was largely satisfied with them.  Sure, there are weird gassing techniques that different companies use to make them ripen, making them a little more mealy and less pleasant, which why is my mom always says they’re better straight off the tree.  But otherwise they are almost the perfect fruit.

Unfortunately, we’re losing them.  I first discovered this while searching through CNN’s tech blog for anything not related to space.  Unfortunately, like many media outlets, if it’s not space it’s disaster.  Evidently all those commercially grown bananas are genetically the same.  The Cavendish banana we all eat is exactly genetically identical.  It was created to have no seeds, unlike ‘wild’ bananas, and requires vegetative reproduction.  So diseases (such as the Panama disease, which has already killed off at least one cultivated type of banana) are easily passed from plant to plant.

According to the UK Observer, scientists are rushing to find wild varieties of banana to help increase the Cavendish’s resistance to disease, or to completely replace the species used commercially.  It is also noted in the article that due to deforestation and other human population pressure, it may already be too late for all bananas – many varieties are dying out, or have already done so.  It makes me wonder if the ‘experts’ are going about things the wrong way around.  I don’t know much about growing bananas, but it might be a wise idea to start growing some of those wild ones commercially, even if they do have seeds, to at least preserve some genetic differentiation.  Also, perhaps commercial growers would be wise to select different species than their neighbors – instead of Cavendish, we could have Burmese Blue and Chinese Yellow and Monkey Fingers all at the same supermarket.  Perhaps some growers could actually produce several different varieties themselves.  If apple growers can survive in Vermont selling a variety of the rare ‘antique’ apples, I don’t see why banana growers couldn’t do the same.  Maybe that Norwegian seed bank will already be able to prove its worth, and surprise us with new genetic banana material.  Maybe we should be thinking of a longer-lasting solution, rather than simply killing off another variety and potentially endangering one of the best fruits there is.

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