Banana under threat from dangerous fungus

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An ominous scenario for the most popular type of banana, Cavendish banana, may be unfolding in Latin America. A strong and incredibly hard to stop fungus has been spotted in the area.

The fungus, a strain of Fusarium oxysporum, is known as Tropical Race 4. A strain of the Fusarium fungus, which causes so-called Panama disease in banana plants, was detected in Colombia.

The strain, which is very difficult to treat, has been spreading around the world for decades.

The Colombian Agricultural Institute has confirmed that a strain of TP4 was found. This caused the government to declare a national state of emergency.

While the fungus is not harmful to humans, it has the potential to eventually wipe out Cavendish bananas, according to experts.

Millions of people around the world rely on bananas and plantains as a staple food and as a cash crop.

While there are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas, which come in different colours, shapes and sizes, just under half of global production is the Cavendish type.

But the fungus strain attacking Cavendish bananas can also infect other varieties of banana plant.

The Colombian government has now began implementing preventative measures including upping sanitary control at ports, airports and border entry points; increasing funding for small- and medium-size banana exporters working to introduce biosecurity measures such as disinfecting machinery, shipping containers and shoes; and closely monitoring the situation through surveillance flights and on-the-ground inspections.

Colombia neighbours Ecuador, which is the world’s biggest banana exporter.

No other types of banana are yet ready for cultivation on a commercial scale.

In addition to wrecking financial havoc, TR4 may spell disaster for the millions of Latin America, Africa and Asia residents who rely on bananas as a primary food source.

Via Science Magazine/ BBC/ National Geographic/Forbes

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