'Decrepit' banana faces extinction in 10 years

The banana could slide into extinction within 10 years because it is "genetically decrepit", scientists will warn today.

The banana could slide into extinction within 10 years because it is "genetically decrepit", scientists will warn today.

Because edible bananas are sterile mutants, new varieties cannot easily be produced by natural methods, leaving the fruit vulnerable to attack from pests and disease.

In the 1950s, the once dominant Gros Michel banana was wiped out by a disease caused by a soil fungus. Its successor, the Cavendish, is now threatened by another fungal disease, black Sigatoka. With nothing readily available to replace the Cavendish, the banana business has reached crisis point. According to a report in New Scientist magazine today, it could be gone in 10 years.

"In some ways, the banana today resembles the potato before blight brought famine to Ireland a century and a half ago," said the magazine.

Wild bananas, called Musa acuminata, contain a mass of hard seeds that make them virtually inedible. About 10,000 years ago in Asia, stone age man found a mutant edible variety, without seeds, and grew it using cuttings from the stems. That means that each banana is virtually genetically identical – meaning producing new varieties resistant to pests and diseases is very difficult.

"When some pest or disease comes along, severe epidemics can occur," Geoff Hawtin of the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute, based in Rome, told New Scientist.

Emile Frison, head of the International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP) in Montpellier, France, said banana diseases were becoming increasingly difficult to control.

"As soon as you bring in a new fungicide, they develop resistance," he said. "One thing we can be sure of is the Sigatoka won't lose in this battle."

Since starting in Fiji in 1963, Black Sigatoka has spread and has destroyed most of the banana fields in Amazonia. That could cut production there by up to 70 per cent, in the world's second-largest growing area for bananas, after China.

Scientists and planters working on solutions are unable to agree whether to produce genetically modified bananas, or develop fungicide.

"Biotechnology to produce GM bananas resistant to fungi is expensive and there are serious questions about consumer acceptance," said David McLaughlin, senior director of environmental affairs for the banana company Chiquita.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea