Can Kenya Save Our Banana (Caven)Dishes?
While eating a cone of chocolate banana (n)ice cream, did you know you are eating the world's most popular fruit? Over 100 million TONS of bananas are produced each year, and Americans eat more bananas than apples and oranges combined! Many people don't know, however, that the banana is in serious danger.
While you might see multiple varieties of oranges in a grocery store, 99% of the banana export market is dominated by a single variety called Cavendish. When a species is dominated by one strain (also known as monoculture), it is like putting all of your eggs into one basket- risky and bound for disaster. And now, the banana market is paying for the mistake and finding themselves slipping on a metaphorical banana peel. As the Cavendish banana is very susceptible to a disease called Tropical Race 4 (TR4), the bananas in Latin America (where the US imports bananas from) have been struck by this disease- the same one that wiped out the Cavendish bananas throughout Asia.
What's even worse? History TRULY repeats itself! When we look at the history of bananas in Latin America, we saw the major fruit companies of the 1950s breed a banana monoculture with the Gros Michel variety. While this helped boost business by prioritizing the most successful product in the market, the worst scenario occurred- the Panama disease wiped out the genetically-identical plants. And now we see this again!
So what does Kenya know that we don't?
In Kenya, some scientists have created the impossible: a completely disease-resistant banana! Back in 1991, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology started their revolutionary project to help save Kenya (and the rest of Africa) from losing a main staple in their diet. (Fun fact: Ugandans have the world's highest consumption of bananas, with each person eating roughly 1 kg, or 2.2 pounds, per day!) The JKUAT banana plant uses tissue culture to clone banana plants that are not only disease-resistant, but yield roughly 20 kg more per bunch and are easier for farmers to grow.
With this success, these wonder-bananas have become popular throughout Africa and India and are saving millions of people from starvation! So while this invincible banana is saving lives, could it also be the key to saving our favorite fruit?