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Global Blight Threatens Bananatastrophe in Mozambique

FILE - Lab at the National Agricultural Research Organization grows disease-resistant genetically modified bananas, Uganda, Sept. 13, 2013. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)

Bananas are under serious threat as a deadly fungus rampages its way through farms, landing recently in Africa. Eldad Karamura, Senior Scientist, Bioversity International, explains in this Voice of America article why the humble banana may soon become toast.

Bananas are under serious threat as a deadly fungus rampages its way through farms, landing recently in Africa. Eldad Karamura, Senior Scientist, Bioversity International, explains in this Voice of America article why the humble banana may soon become toast.

The worldwide banana crop is under serious threat as a deadly fungus has rampaged its way through banana farms, landing recently in Africa. The latest carnage has been seen in Mozambique, which recently reported a new outbreak of the deadly TR4 strain of Panama Disease.

This is not just an agricultural threat, but an economic one: Officials in Mozambique say the crop brings in more than $70 million per year.

Eldad Karamura is a senior scientist responsible for regional banana research for research organization Bioversity International, and is based in Kampala, Uganda. He says this deadly strain was first seen in Mozambique about two years ago and recently resurfaced on two farms. The government has tried to impose a quarantine to confine the disease.

Why is this so serious?

For the answer, you have to look into the little-known history of the modern banana. Most commercially available bananas are of the Cavendish cultivar — your garden-variety yellow banana, seen on breakfast buffets and produce aisles of major supermarkets around the world.

The Cavendish was actually introduced in the 1950s — and at the eleventh hour, at that — after the previous top banana, the Gros Michel, was obliterated by a strain of Panama Disease. But since commercially grown bananas are propagated non-sexually, every Cavendish banana in one plant is a clone of every other Cavendish banana in that plant.

That means they can’t evolve to evade diseases — and with the TR4 strain, for which there is no effective treatment, they’ve met their match. Karamura says there is no new cultivar waiting in the wings to replace the Cavendish, but that’s not for lack of trying. Banana scientists, he says, just haven’t yet chanced upon a lucky candidate.

But Prof. Altus Viljoen, from the Department of Plant Pathology at Stellenbosch University in South Africa explains how the Cavendish’s savior may turn out to be … another strain of the Cavendish, a mutant developed in Taiwan.

Text extracted from original article - read it in full here:
Global Blight Threatens Banantastrophe in Mozambique, Voice of America, Oct 28th, 2015

Photo: FILE - Lab at the National Agricultural Research Organization grows disease-resistant genetically modified bananas, Uganda, Sept. 13, 2013. (Hilary Heuler for VOA)

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