Most of us eat Cavendish bananas. Because they are genetically identical, anything that kills one can kill them all…
Like Tropical Race 4.
Three years ago, a banana fungus called Tropical Race 4 had spread through the areas of Asia marked in red. Now, Cavendish growers in Latin America are worried:
Some Banana History
The place is Jersey City where the first U.S. bananas arrived in 1870. The Gros Michel was resilient, it didn’t ripen too quickly nor bruise too easily. Super tasty, the fruit sounded amazing.
You and I though were not destined to enjoy it. By 1960 very little remained of the Gros Michel because of a fungal disease that had begun to spread during the 1920s. Reputedly, United Fruit did not want to replace the Gros Michel with the Cavendish but they had no choice. The Cavendish was a second rate banana. Its taste was somewhat bland, it needed pesticides and an ethylene gas ripener. But the Cavendish survived the fungus.
Now though, in a very similar way, it too is being obliterated. An $8.9 billion industry, the Cavendish has been devastated by the Tropical Race 4 strain of Panama disease. And there is no back-up banana. The sick banana looks like this:
Our Bottom Line: Opportunity Cost
You can see below that the banana is one of the world’s largest crops. It is a basic source of nutrition for millions in poorer nations and a lucrative export:
Why then are growers gambling with the chance of a wipe out? An economist would say that it is all about opportunity cost. At this moment, switching creates too great a sacrifice.
But if they wait too long, then “yes, we will have no bananas.”
Sources and Resources: Excellent for banana history and production, this NY Times Op-Ed from Dan Koeppel, this Freakonomics post and this New Yorker article and video provided all you would probably want to know about banana economics. Then, for a more recent update, Quartz, Wired and the Washington Post were the perfect complement. Or you might just watch the Sci Show: