According to the research, the Panama disease, which was a fungal plant disease common only to Asia is now spreading like wildfire. Researchers claim that it is only a matter of time before the pathogen attacks banana plantations in South America, which is one of the world’s largest banana producers.
Study authors explained that the lethal fungus was first detected in Indonesia. From there it rapidly spread to Taiwan, China, India, and other South Asia banana producers. But since 2013 the disease reached Africa, the Middle East, and Australia.
Gert Kema, lead author of the study and a biologist at Wageningen University and Research Center, explained that “Tropical Race 4” is a strain of the Panama disease, which may soon wipe out the beloved yellow fruits since there is no cure to it.
Copies of the strain were recently reported in Australia, Lebanon, Pakistan, Oman, and Mozambique. But any quarantine efforts were so far in vain. Study investigators also said that it may take some time before the fungus wipes out all banana plantations worldwide.
The disease slowly destroys banana crops, but once it takes root it become irreversible. For instance, in 50 years Taiwan’s banana production plunged to two percent because of the Tropical Race 4.
But surprisingly, this is old news. Historical records show that a related strain of the disease – Race 1 – nearly wiped out all banana production of South America in the late 1800s.
Banana experts explained why the Panama disease is so ravaging. All bananas that are produced to be sold are clones of one another, i.e. they are not allowed to sexually reproduce, so they cannot develop a defense mechanism against such pathogens. This is why Latin America’s crops in the late 1800s went extinct within 50 years.
But in the meantime researchers developed the Cavendish, a banana variety that is immune to that specific strain of the virus. The world is still eating the Cavendish today.
Nevertheless, the new strain is more lethal than its century-old relative, and it has no trouble in destroying the Cavendish. Researchers estimate that current banana production could share the same fate of Latin America in the late 1800s, and we could witness a collapse of the $11 billion global banana industry in a matter of years.
But this time the deadly fungus won’t affect only local banana production as it did with South American producers. It is expected to negatively impact 40 percent of banana production worldwide.
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