Banana production threatened across globe by 'unstoppable' killer fungus

The plant is threatened by a fungus which has already wiped out the crop in Southeast Asia 

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The Independent Online

Bananas could soon become an endangered fruit due to a fungus that threatens to wipe out crops across the globe.

According to new research published by journal PLOS Pathogen, the fungus - dubbed Tropical Race 4 -  has already decimated the crop in Southeast Asia over a number of decades.

It was first discovered in Australia, Jordan, Mozambique, Pakistan, the Middle East and Africa in 2013 - where it destroyed whole plantations - and is now threatening Latin America. 

The popular Cavendish variety of the fruit are said to be the most at risk.

"Ever since TR4 destroyed the Cavendish-based banana industry in Taiwan, its trail in Southeast Asia seems unstoppable with incursions and expansions in the Chinese provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Guangxi, and Yunnan as well as on the island of Hainan," the report warns.

Scientists have compared it to a similar outbreak of Panama disease at the start of the 20th century, which drove the then most popular variety - the Gros Michel - to extinction by the 1960s.

The report concludes banana farmers will have to make “drastic strategy changes” to prevent the spread of the fungus - including isolating any plant that has traces of TR4 and developing new resistant types of banana.

But the researchers warned: “Developing new banana cultivars, however, requires major investments in research and development and the recognition of the banana as a global staple and cash crop that supports the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers." 

Bananas are primarily grown by smallholder farmers and 85 per cent of its global production is sold on the local market.