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Are bananas going extinct?

Updated: Dec 14, 2021

When you walk into the supermarket, you would not be under the impression that bananas actually might go extinct. They are available in every supermarket and the shelves are stocked almost daily.


Unfortunately, the future of the banana does not look as bright. The banana species you find in the supermarket is the Musa Cavendish. This one is grown for the international market. Cavendish plantations are monocultures, which means only one type of crop is grown on the same piece of land. All modern banana plants are cloned, which has a big disadvantage. As all Cavendish-bananas are genetically identical, it only takes one disease to eliminate all of them.


This happened to Gros Michel, predecessor of the Cavendish bananas. The banana died out due to the Panama disease, which is caused by the soil fungus Fusarium. These fungi live in the soil and enter the plant’s vessels via the roots. They obstruct the vessels, which is similar to cardiovascular disease in humans. Due to the obstruction, nutrients cannot reach the entire plant, causing it to die. Getting rid of this fungus is extremely difficult, as it can survive in the soil for decades. The banana industry solved this problem by cultivating Cavendish bananas, a new breed which was resistant to the fungus.


However, a new type of Fusarium fungus came into existence, namely Tropical Race 4 (TR4). Even the Cavendish bananas are not resistant against this fungus species. Cultivating new banana species which are TR4 resistant is vital to protect Cavendish from the same fate as Gros Michel. However, this is a complicated and time-consuming process. Another strategy is to remove the banana plant from the soil, away from the TR4 in it. Neder Banaan in Ede does exactly this. Instead of soil, the company uses a combination of coconut fibre and rockwool to grow their bananas. This technique can easily be used in other parts of the world, to keep bananas alive while new species are cultivated.


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