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Panama disease, an infection that ravages banana plants, has been sweeping across Asia, Australia, the Middle East and Africa. The impact has been devastating. In the Philippines alone, losses have totalled US$400m. And the disease threatens not only the livelihoods of everyone in this US$44 billion industry but also the 400m people in developing countries who depend on bananas for a substantial proportion of their calorie intake.
However, there may be hope. In an attempt to save the banana and the industry that produces it, scientists are in a race to create a new plant resistant to Panama disease. But perhaps this crisis is a warning that we are growing our food in an unsustainable way and we will need to look to more radical changes for a permanent solution.
Look - History - Banana - Middle - Century
To understand how we got here, we need to take a look back at the history of the banana, and in particular the middle of the last century, when a crisis that had been growing for decades was threatening to bring down whole economies and leave thousands destitute. The banana was dying out.
A condition known as Fusarium wilt or Panama disease was wiping out whole plantations in the world's major banana-producing countries of Latin America. It threatened an industry so important to this part of the world that some states had became known as banana republics because they were virtually governed by the corporations that produced the crop.
Bananas - Type - Plant - Trees - Plantation
Because bananas of the same type are virtually genetically identical, if one plant becomes infected, all of the other trees in a plantation are also susceptible. This meant it was only too easy for Panama disease to sweep through huge expanses of vulnerable host plants. In many areas, all of the trees were killed.
Without a cure or treatment, there was no way back for a...
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