Are Bananas Going Extinct?

Whether we slice them over cereal or put them in our backpacks for an afternoon snack, we certainly do love our bananas. But lately we've been hearing more and more news that our beloved banana may be no more.

Some scientists are saying that the extinction of the banana as we know it is inevitable and irreversible. But then, we also hear that these stories are grossly exaggerated, that the scientists will take care of it, and life (with bananas) will proceed without a hitch.

So what are we supposed to believe?The banana is one of the oldest food crops, and it has been cultivated to the point where the majority of the bananas in the world are genetically identical copies of each other. This means that a disease or pest that affects a crop in one place can eventually have repercussions world wide.

The Gros Michel was the number one banana sold in the US and Europe until the 1960's when a fungus known as Panama disease began wiping out crops in South America. Growers and producers eventually switched over to another type of banana, which was resistant to the disease. This banana, the Cavendish, has fully replaced the Gros Michel and is the typical yellow banana found in any grocery store today. It's also likely the only banana most of us have ever tasted.

But a new strain of the Panama disease was discovered in Asia in the early 1990's and has been devastating commercial banana crops throughout the Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. It has yet to affect crops world-wide, but given the banana's lack of genetic diversity and the effect of global consumerism, many scientists are saying that it's only a matter of time. Unlike the situation with the Gros Michel bananas, there is not another banana waiting in the wings if the Cavendish becomes extinct.

But honestly, we don't like the idea of a grocery store bait-and-switch anyway. Simply letting one banana fall into extinction and replacing it with another won't do anything to prevent a similar situation from happening again. The real problem--and a problem we're starting to talk more about with so many of our primary crops--seems to be lack of genetic diversity.

What are your thoughts on this possible banana extinction?

(Photo Credit: Whole-Istic Solutions)

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