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Fusarium Wilt - The Problem that’s Driving us Bananas

Porter Degen

Professor Bohannon

English 2010-429

February 2, 2018
February 2, 2018

Ronald Bohannon
English 2010-429
Salt Lake Community College
4600 S Redwood Rd,
Salt Lake City, UT 84123

Dear Instructor Bohannon


Over One hundred million tons (100,000,000) of bananas are produced every year, with an
estimated value of over five billion dollars ($5,000,000,000)(The Problem). The death of the
banana would have serious widespread impacts on not only banana producing countries of the
world, but on countries across the globe.

Bananas are facing a serious threat in the form of fusarium wilt-tropical race four. Banana
plantations all throughout the pacific are being ravaged, and based on the previous fusarium wilt
epidemic (panama disease), it’s only a matter of time until the disease is found worldwide.

Furthermore, over the course of this class, I’ve learned a lot about writing college essays, and
doing in depth research. This newfound knowledge will help me moving forward in my college
classes, and in a future career as well.

Sincerely,

Porter Degen
The International Banana Crisis - A Matter of Time

In the past we had a different variety of bananas that our forefathers had come to know and love

by the name of Gros Michel. By the 1950’s however, it was all but lost for the world - that’s why

banana flavored candies don’t taste like bananas. The problem was a fungus, known as fusarium

wilt, particularly the variety known as panama disease, decimated plantations across the globe

(The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica). The fungus was first found in the Pacific, and within

fifty years of it’s discovery in Australia, it was spread across the globe. Banana producing

countries across the globe had over 2.3 billion dollars worth of damages due to the pandemic

(“Bananas Exports by Country.”).

Fortunately they had a solution. There was another variety of banana known by the name of

Cavendish, which was immune to the fungus. However the countries that were ravaged by the

fusarium wilt couldn’t just simply plant new plants and move on. No, even though the Cavendish

banana was immune, the change from the former version of banana to the current one required

significant structural changes to banana plantations, because the plants grow in different

conditions, and as such have differing needs (“The Problem”).

The Cavendish banana as we know it is under serious threat. The fusarium wilt has adapted, and

the Cavendish banana is now susceptible to a new form of the disease known as Tropical Race

Four (TR4). Tropical Race Four is destroying banana plantations across the Pacific, and based on

the spread of the former version of the disease, it’s only a matter of time until we it reaches the

Americas. Because of this threat, precautions are being taken by government agencies of banana
producing countries, and extensive research is going into fighting the spread of the disease

(“Panama disease”).

Such precautions include those from the Australian government, where they’ve already had three

plantations that have been confirmed to have it. Their efforts include a website about how to

recognized contaminated plants and what to do in case you think any of your plants are infected.

These resources are available to the public, which helps the banana industry know what to

expect, and if what plantations have been confirmed to have the fusarium wilt.This helps

plantation owners better know what kind of precautions are necessary

The financial impact of this pandemic has already cost the banana industry over four hundred

million dollars ($400,000,000) in lost banana plants and plantation closures (“The Problem”). If

there is a single plant with the fungus detected on a given plantation, the whole plantation is

quarantined and a government agency comes out to confirm if it is in fact fusarium wilt. Because

the fungus can live for up to 40 years in the soil, it makes the entire area unsuitable for banana

production for decades (“Panama Disease in Banana: Multi-Level solutions for a global

problem”).

One hundred and thirty five (135) countries produce bananas, and over twenty two (22) countries

rely heavily on their production (“Banana-Producing Countries Portal”). Less than fifteen

percent of the bananas produced are exported, meaning the majority of bananas are consumed by

local markets (“Banana-Producing Countries Portal”). Another problem the University of

Wageningen points out is:


Farmers in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia are

threatened in their business and livelihoods. Bananas are an important cash-

crop for millions of people, enabling them to send children to school and

support their families. Fusarium wilt therefore threatens to cause widespread

poverty. (The Problem)

If and when the fusarium wilt reaches South America and Central America, we can likely expect

another wave of immigration as more and more people lose jobs.

Unfortunately fungicides are ineffective against this disease. As such, the best way to stop

fusarium wilt is to prevent it. This is sometimes difficult, because as mentioned before, the

disease lives in the soil for decades (“Panama Disease in Banana: Multi-Level solutions for a

global problem”). The disease can also be transferred through soil, water, tools, and infected

plants, making the spread of the disease very easy.

The fungus is lethal to banana plants, however it may take up to four months to show symptoms

of infection (“Fusarium wilt”), which has also helped the spread of the wilt. After infection, the

fungus grows in the roots of the plants, and restricts the flow of nutrients to the rest of the plant.

From that point the first sign of infection is discoloration of the leaves. Eventually all the leaves

wilt and dry up, which results in plant death (“Fusarium wilt”).

The reason the bananas are so susceptible to the fusarium wilt is due to the fact that they are

almost all clones and they have little to no genetic diversity. This makes it so that any disease

can decimate entire populations like we have seen twice now. The gros michel bananas were all
nearly identical. When the population was decimated, banana farmers discovered that the

Cavendish variety of banana was immune to the fusarium wilt. Unfortunately the Cavendish

variety were also genetically clones. The Cavendish immunity lasted until the 1990s when a new

strain of the disease came about.

Scientists are working on a variety of solutions for this very serious problem. Some potential

solutions include genetic modification off the banana plant to make them once again resistant.

This has been tried with mixed results thus far (Queensland University of Technology).

Scientists may also weaken the fungus through genetic modification as well, although this may

prove difficult, as little is known about how the fungus works. Another solution to stop this from

happening again in the future is to use more genetically diverse bananas.

In the United States bananas are the most consumed fruit, more than both apples and oranges

combined (The Problem). The death of the banana would undoubtedly cause widespread

discontent among the American populace. There would be another type of banana to take its

place after some time, however there’s no way to say how they would compare. All in all, this

problem is just driving me bananas.


Works Cited

“Bananas Exports by Country.” World's Top Exports, 14 Dec. 2017,

www.worldstopexports.com/bananas-exports-country/.

“Banana-Producing Countries Portal.” The Knowledge Platform on the Banana, Promusa,

www.promusa.org/Banana-producing countries portal.

“Fusarium wilt.” News, knowledge and information on bananas from ProMusa,

www.promusa.org/Fusarium wilt.

“Gros Michel: The Lost Banana Your Grandfather Loved.” Raw-Food-Health, www.raw-

food-health.net/Gros-Michel.html.

“Panama disease.” Department of Agriculture and Fisheries,

www.daf.qld.gov.au/plants/health-pests-diseases/a-z-significant/panama-disease2.

“Panama Disease in Banana: Multi-Level solutions for a global problem.” WUR,

www.wur.nl/en/show/panama-disease.htm.

Queensland University of Technology. "Saving cavendish: Panama disease-resistant

bananas." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 November 2017.

www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171115091806.htm.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Panama disease.” Encyclopædia Britannica,

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 1 Sept. 2017, www.britannica.com/science/Panama-

disease.

“The Problem.” Fusarium Wilt, www.fusariumwilt.org/index.php/en/the-

problem/#Solutions.
“Welcome to the Purdue OWL.” Purdue OWL: MLA Formatting and Style Guide,

owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/04/.