Banana extinction?

We want to grow things – and eat things – and get excited about planning our future food forest. The humble banana seems so common, but this unique giant herb has caught our interest… mainly because we have discovered that in a few decades it may no longer exist.

But it’s a BANANA, how can it go extinct?!
We wondered the same thing.The banana itself will not go extinct – there are far too many varieties for that – however most of them would not impress banana-eaters. Huge seeds? Difficult skins? Bad ripening? Odd taste? All rejected! The user-friendly banana the world eats is called the cavendish. It is easy to grow and ship from plantations, and has a taste and texture that is agreed to be ‘the best’.

However, several generations ago there was a different top banana – the gros michel (and yes, it was reportedly tastier!). The gros michel was practically wiped out by the ‘panama disease’, and the banana industry almost went bankrupt before discovering the more resistant cavendish around 1960. Now the same problem has started with a different disease, and farmers worldwide are desperately trying to stop it. (Only this time, there aren’t any ‘perfect’ replacement bananas standing by…)

Is it really that bad?
Yes. A quick poke into the Australian Queensland Government’s website gives a pretty clear answer – they aren’t messing around! You can’t just throw a banana plant in the ground. There are a lot of guidelines to make sure you aren’t breaking the bio-security laws and they suggest you buy tissue-cultured baby plants (lab grown in a sterile environment!).

Why is this happening?
Well, a banana like the cavendish is really just one unique plant, reproduced over and over from the babies that grow out the the base (or from tissue samples!). They are genetically identical. Mono-crop farms of the same plant can be wiped out by one bug or disease, which can run rampant without a proper eco-system around to balance it. It is a very serious and difficult problem.

It’s all unbelievable stuff, considering most people know nothing about it. It certainly makes you appreciate a fruit we take for granted, and question the security and logic of our food system. (Not to mention the unpleasant amounts of pesticides being used on these plants to try and protect them.)

We wonder what other popular foods and varieties are in danger? Will we be growing and eating the same things in 20 years time? Or do we need to enjoy as many cavendish banana milkshakes and muffins as we can, while we can?

Organic bananas we purchased in Singapore.

We buy a different variety of organic bananas sometimes (grown in Malaysia). They taste sweet and are a cute, tiny size. However they are not as creamy as the regular cavendish, and the skins are quite thin and can be difficult to separate from the fruit.

Bananas are nutritionally rich – packed with vitamins and minerals, particularly potassium and vitamin B6 (great for avoiding muscle cramps during long rehearsals!). It is not a tree, but a giant herb that produces one bunch of fruit from a huge crimson flower, taking up to a year to ripen. We hope we will have the opportunity to try growing this amazing fruit some day!

Why not try some fresh bananas in a Power Porridge recipe?!



One thought on “Banana extinction?

  1. Love this blog. it opens up the whole issue of monoculture culture, and the dire importance of seed banks all around the world. Do you have any seed banks in the Southern Hemisphere that you could tell us about? Also, does it really help keep “multi-culture” bananas around if we make a point of buying those funky sized, funky-colored “others” that we find in the grocery (i.e. if we support the market for non-perfect tissue-culture-based foods like finger bananas, etc)?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *