Despite the fact that there are more than 1,000 banana varieties on earth, almost every single imported banana on the commercial market belongs to a single variety, called the Cavendish. These bananas became dominant throughout the industry in the 1960s because they were resistant to a fungal disease (called Panama Race One) that wiped out what had previously been the most popular banana, the Gros Michel. But signs point, pretty convincingly, to the Cavendish’s own demise within the next decade. Here’s why:
1. Cavendish bananas are sterile and seedless, so they reproduce asexually (through suckers that grow off the “mother” plant), meaning that each plant is genetically identical.
2. This lack of genetic diversity makes all Cavendish bananas vulnerable to the threat of Tropical Race Four, a new, even more devastating fungal disease.
3. Race Four has already wiped out Cavendish bananas throughout Asia and Australia. Most growers view it as only a matter of time before the disease makes its way to Latin America, where it will make short work of the plantations that supply North American consumers.
If you’re interested to know more, read this fascinating 2011 New Yorker report on growers’ efforts to cope with Race Four, or check out journalist Dan Koeppel’s book Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. And then eat a banana while tears stream down your face.