B1, B2 Murdered

24 02 2008

Can This Fruit Be Saved?


Popular Science: LINK
(Thank You, Jacki bringing this plight to my knowledge)
The banana as we know it is on a crash course toward extinction. For scientists, the battle to resuscitate the world’s favorite fruit has begun—a race against time that just may be too late to win. The bearded botanist and I are traipsing through one of the world´s most unusual banana plantations, moving down row after row of towering plants and ducking into the shade of broad leaves in an attempt to avoid the Central American midday heat. In an area about the size of a U.S. shopping mall, Aguilar, 46, is growing more than 300 banana varieties. Most commercial growing facilities handle just a single banana type-the one we Americans slice into our morning cereal.

The diversity of fruit in Aguilar´s field is astonishing. Some of the bananas are thick and over a foot long; others are slender and pinky-size. Some are meant to be eaten raw and sweet and some function more like potatoes, meant for boiling and baking or frying into snack chips. But Aguilar´s admonition is aimed squarely at our northern lunch boxes and breakfast tables.

For nearly everyone in the U.S., Canada and Europe, a banana is a banana: yellow and sweet, uniformly sized, firmly textured, always seedless. Our banana, called the Cavendish, is one variety Aguilar doesn´t grow here. And for you, says the chief banana breeder for the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Investigation (FHIA), the Cavendish is the banana.

The Cavendish-as the slogan of Chiquita, the globe´s largest banana producer, declares-is â€quite possibly the world´s perfect food. Bananas are nutritious and convenient; they´re cheap and consistently available. Americans eat more bananas than any other kind of fresh fruit, averaging about 26.2 pounds of them per year, per person (apples are a distant second, at 16.7 pounds). It also turns out that the 100 billion Cavendish bananas consumed annually worldwide are perfect from a genetic standpoint, every single one a duplicate of every other. It doesn´t matter if it comes from Honduras or Thailand, Jamaica or the Canary Islands-each Cavendish is an identical twin to one first found in Southeast Asia, brought to a Caribbean botanic garden in the early part of the 20th century, and put into commercial production about 50 years ago.

That sameness is the banana´s paradox. After 15,000 years of human cultivation, the banana is too perfect, lacking the genetic diversity that is key to species health. What can ail one banana can ail all. A fungus or bacterial disease that infects one plantation could march around the globe and destroy millions of bunches, leaving supermarket shelves empty…




2 responses

24 02 2008
kaff kat

bananas cause cancer. eugh.

25 02 2008

while cathy would be happy to see them disappear…i will surely miss my peanut butter and banana sandwiches (one of which i coincidentally happen to be eating right now), and the slighty fruity addition one makes to my favorite drink, the very girly bahama mama.

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