The humble banana is under attack by a disease that is spreading around the globe, and threatening Latin America’s all-important export industry.
The industry is so worried about it, that it moved this week’s International Banana Congress from Costa Rica to Miami at the last minute so that attendees wouldn’t transport the disease to the region with the contaminated dirt on their shoes. Latin America is the primary source of bananas for North America and Europe.
The disease — known as “Panama disease” or “Fusarium wilt” — has already spread from Asia to parts of Australia, Africa and the Middle East. It specifically affects the Cavendish banana, which is the fruit that consumers in the West are accustomed to eating.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned this month that the $36 billion banana industry must act “to tackle one of the world’s most destructive banana diseases.”
An earlier strain of the Panama disease wiped out what had been the most popular banana variety in the 1960s, the Gros Michel. Producers subsequently adopted the Cavendish banana, which was deemed an inferior product but was resistant to the disease.
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