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Banana-geddon: World's bananas under threat from bugs and spreading fungus

Published December 18, 2013

Banana fungus threaten the global supply of one of America's favorite snack.iStock

One country has already declared it a national emergency and alarm bells are ringing for banana lovers.

But banana-geddon is very real and fruit fans everywhere are fearing for the future supplies of the popular global snack.

Already under massive threat due to plagues of bugs, scientists now fear a fungal infection could be making its way around the world and into banana plantations.

Fears are also growing that the Foc-TR4 strain could wipe out Cavendish cultivar banana exports across the whole of Latin American and the Caribbean, which accounts for more than 80 per cent of the world's supply.

According to scientific journal Nature , things don't look healthy for the world's bananas and countries such as Costa Rica, a major exporter of the iconic fruit, have every right to be alarmed.

Previously, the disease, caused by the fungus Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense (Foc), was limited to parts of parts of Asia and one region in Australia but has now been found as far away as Jordan and Mozambique.

** Fusarium researcher at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands and report co-author Gert Kema said the world needed to sit up and take notice of the potential crisis.

"I'm incredibly concerned,"
he said. "I will not be surprised if it pops up in Latin America in the near future."

According to Nature, a strain of Foc wiped out the Gros Michel cultivar - the main exported banana variety until the 1950s.

Gros Michel plants were then replaced with the Cavendish variety, which is resistant to that Foc strain, but susceptible to the new Foc Tropical Race 4 (Foc-TR4) strain.

** Costa Rica is so concerned it has declared a state of emergency over its crops, with its half-a-billion-dollar export industry already been hit by two separate bug and insect plagues, The Independent reported.

The country's agriculture ministry's State Phytosanitary Services (SFE) director Magda Gonzalez said insect plagues made it difficult for the country to meet its export deals.

But while banana producers around the world are worried for their future, the good news is Australia's isolation and strict quarantine standards mean our growers are in a better position.

This is obviously good news for Aussie banana fans.

But University of Queensland Associate Professor Elizabeth Aitken warned Australia couldn't afford to be lax with its strict standards, with growing methods leaving the fruit susceptible to disease.

Associate prof Aitken said the FOC-TR4 had been found in a small region in the Northern Territory but appeared to be contained under control.

However, she warned it could get out of hand if we are not careful.

"If people are lax with things like quarantine it could be a disaster, especially for north Queensland,"
she said.

Associate Prof Aitken said bananas were easily susceptible to disease and that the spread of the Foc-TR4 would be disastrous for the world's banana producers.

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