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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

Give a big hand to the beleaguered banana

Will we eventually wave goodbye to bananas?

How many bananas do you eat a week? Aren’t they ubiquitous when it comes to a quick snack? Think on, More than 100 billion bananas are consumed annually and the UK buys 5 billion every year. Did you know that bananas are the fourth most important crop following on after wheat, rice and corn?

However, things are not looking too rosy for bananas right now. Not only are the ubiquitous yellow Cavendish banana under attack from a virus that may well wipe out the whole crop worldwide, but bananas aren’t keen on climate change either.

Mind you this won’t be the first time we’ve faced such a risk to the fruit we love.

Once the banana known as the Gros Michel was the most significant banana. But during the 1950s it was decimated by Banana Wilt also known as Panama disease. This was easily resolved at the time by growing the Cavendish that was initially immune to wilt. In this instance we sacrificed taste for immunity. However, the virus is soil borne and is now attacking the Cavendish and once there it infects land for decades.

Banana propagation in Derbyshire? Really?

You may or may not know that the Cavendish was first propagated at Chatsworth House in the Peak District. This happened almost two hundred years ago and most plants worldwide are clones of this first hothouse baby. Even in India and China you will find that the Cavendish has made significant inroads. So it’s not surprising that this global crop is quite vulnerable to being wiped out and we should all be aware.

But what’s the real worry?

Now the Cavendish is so popular all’s well. In fact since 1961 bananas have been basking in the increased global warmth. As a result yields have gone up steadily. But there is the potential for considerable change in future growing conditions and researchers from the University of Exeter have stated that tropical agriculture needs an investment injection before it’s too late.

Their study has looked at 86% of the dessert banana growing output spread over 27 countries. This is the first time there has been a detailed examination of a situation that up to now has relied on anecdotal evidence. Bananas are keen on rainfall and if temperatures rise, as they have been doing, it’s likely that we may well have less of it in the places where bananas are grown.

Dr. Varun Varma who is a Research Fellow at Exeter University thinks that it’s time that producers that may well be quite susceptible to this change should take note now. Ecuador and Brazil are two large producers that need to plan for dealing with future issues such as cultivation reductions alongside viruses. Ecuador, for example is actually the world’s largest exporter.

Sustainable irrigation will be something that will underpin future developments and crop security. Dr. Dan Bebber, who is a Bioscience Senior Lecturer, at the same university, states that:

It is imperative that we invest in preparing tropical agriculture for future climate change.

What I have never understood is why so many countries have almost total reliance on the Cavendish banana. Reliance is almost an understatement as in the UK we receive 7 percent of the export market. In India for example bananas are many, varied and delicious. Twenty different types are grown so isn’t it time we changed allegiance? If only it were that simple.

Climate change is likely to affect everywhere.

Latin American countries, Asia India and the Philippines may well end up being too hot and dry for banana production. So it’s obvious that agriculture, climatologists and food industry experts will need to work hard on reversing deforestation, water degradation, loss of bio diversity etc. Maybe we should be doing more to alleviate climate change as well as finding ways to genetically modify crops to deal with drought. Look at the cause not just focus on the effects. Who knows we might not just be planting vines but banana plantation too in the south east of England.

Once again it is yet another challenge for the Food Industry.

When it comes to recruitment into the industry I think stories like these will galvanise people to become more involved. We need even more committed people who are prepared to challenge the status quo and be prepared to take a proactive stance to the challenges facing us regarding food production, product development and consumer desire. I would be interested in hearing your views and opinions so please just leave a comment below.

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