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  • From: "Robert H." <>
  • To:,,,
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  • Subject: [NAFEX] Fwd: Just how far are bananas from extinction
  • Date: Wed, 29 Oct 2003 12:21:44 -0000

I heard about this somewhere about a year ago, I am surprized that
this has not gotten more attention in the news. Could anyone imagine
if bannas disappeard from store shelves?

--- In, Markku Häkkinen
<markku.hakkinen@k...> wrote:

Just how far are bananas from extinction?

INIBAP, Montpellier, 21 January 2003 - The world's most popular fruit
and a basic staple food for hundreds of millions of people in the
developing world - the banana - is under severe threat from virulent
pests and diseases. An article in the 16 January edition of the New
Scientist magazine has warned of the risk of shoppers finding the
shelves empty when they go to buy their weekly bunch. Articles and
broadcasts from around the world have followed with alarming and
sometimes exaggerated stories of extinction.
While this helps to raise awareness of the importance of bananas in
the world and the threats faced by banana farmers, it is important not
to lose sight of the facts and to point to the positive progress that
researchers are making to address these challenges.
The New Scientist article focussed on concerns over the spread of a
new form of Panama disease (Fusarium wilt) - known as race 4 - which
is threatening the Cavendish variety, the world's major export banana.
The disease has spread through plantations in Australia, South Africa
and parts of Asia. It is only a matter of time before race 4 reaches
the hub of commercial production in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The Cavendish took over as the No. 1 dessert banana in the 1960s from
the Gros Michel, a variety that had dominated world markets until it
fell prey to an earlier form of Panama disease. So fears are
Cavendish bananas are already under attack from another fungal
disease, black Sigatoka, but are protected commercially by as many as
40 sprayings a year of fungicide. The sprayings are not only
expensive, making up a quarter of production costs, but present a
serious risk to workers and a threat to the environment.
Unlike black Sigatoka, which attacks leaves, race 4 is a soil-borne
fungus that attacks roots and cannot be controlled by fungicides. If
race 4 reaches the commercial plantations, it is likely to wipe out
Cavendish just as the earlier disease eradicated Gros Michel. The only
option is to find another variety that resists race 4.
While the loss of the Cavendish would hurt consumers in developed
countries, diseases have an even more severe impact on other types of
banana, of which there are more than 500 varieties. Banana exports
make up just 13% of world production. The other 87% represents bananas
that never leave the country where they are produced. In the
developing world banana is the most important food in terms of
production value after rice, wheat and maize. Most banana farmers
subsist on very limited margins and cannot afford the expensive
chemicals to keep diseases in check. Epidemic diseases that attack
these bananas undermine the very roots of food and income security for
millions of people in the developing world. New resistant varieties
are needed urgently.
What makes it difficult to breed new, improved varieties is that
cultivated bananas are sterile and do not have seeds. They are
propagated as suckers, or shoots, which arise from the base of the
plant underground. There is no easy way to cross one variety with
another. It is only in the past 10 years, after more than 80 years of
research, that improved varieties acceptable for large-scale
production have been made available.
Only five scientists, globally, are presently working to breed
improved bananas. Such a meagre research effort is decidedly out of
proportion to the scale and importance of the problem. But currently
there is alarmingly little investment in banana research compared to
the global significance of the crop. This must be reversed if the
world's most popular fruit, an important survival food for families in
the tropics, is not to decline further.
With the progress already made, if we can mobilise new and significant
investment, there is every reason to believe that the banana will
provide food and income security for those families for many years to

Facts about the banana

* The biggest producer of bananas is India, which produces16 million
tonnes, more bananas than are exported in world trade.
* Nearly 100 million tonnes of banana and plantain are produced
globally every year by about 120 countries in subtropical and tropical
* The export trade concerns around only about 12.5 million tonnes of
* Roughly equal amounts are produced from each of the regions of Asia,
Latin America with the Caribbean, and Africa.
* There are more than 500 varieties of banana in the world. The
Cavendish banana is the one that is exported and found on supermarket
shelves. It represents just one variety.
* Plantain is one kind of cooking banana. It represents a group of
bananas that are popular in parts of South Asia, West Africa, Latin
America and the Caribbean.
* The highest rate of consumption is in East Africa. Ugandans produce
10.5 million tonnes, around 450 kg per year per person. The word for
bananas "matooke" also means "food".
* 99.5% of banana-eaters in the world are eating varieties of banana
that have been selected by farmers and haven't changed in centuries.
* The fruit is one of the most easily digested foods available, and is
particularly useful in feeding infants, the frail or ailing (and
sportsmen in need of quick energy), providing a good source of
potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A, B6 and C.
* Black Sigatoka causes yield declines of up to 50%. Commercial
plantations follow a very intensive regime of fungicide spraying - up
to 40 times a season -- to combat black Sigatoka.
* Almost all cultivated bananas are difficult to breed because they
are seedless and sterile. They also take up to 18 months to fruit,
which prolongs breeding efforts compared to annual crops.
* Improved varieties produced by classical breeding have started to
become available in the past 10 years. They have not yet been planted
on a large scale.
* Cuba is the first country to use improved varieties of banana on a
significant scale. They have planted more than 11,000 ha. As a result,
farmers have experienced yield increases and made annual savings of
US$3 million on spraying.
* Biotechnology can speed up research dramatically. Classical plant
breeding can use biotechnologies to see which varieties are worth
pursuing. And genetic modification is one biotechnology that could be
used to breed improved varieties of banana. In cases where varieties
are totally sterile, it is the only available solution. Genetically
manipulated bananas would be environmentally safe because the banana
is sterile and modified genes would not be able to escape from the
transformed crop.

The International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain
(INIBAP) is a programme of the International Plant Genetic Resources
Institute (IPGRI), one of the Future Harvest centres of the
Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

INIBAP coordinates research and carries out hundreds of projects
worldwide on the smallholder banana crop. It manages the largest
collection of banana germplasm in a genebank held at the Katholieke
Universiteit Leuven (KULeuven) in Belgium.

For more information see
or contact Charlotte Lusty: c.lusty@c... - Tel. +33-467 61 13 02
--- End forwarded message ---

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