No. Gasp. It couldn’t be could it? Minions all over the globe can be heard shedding tears at the thought of the idea. The end of the banana? Never!
Two weeks ago, at a conference in South Africa, scientists met to discuss how to contain a deadly banana disease outbreak in nearby Mozambique, Africa. The international delegation of researchers shared their own approaches to the malady, hoping to arrive at some strategy to insulate Mozambique and the rest of Africa: a continent where bananas are essential to the lives of millions. They left the Cape Town-based meeting with an air of optimism. Only days after the meeting, however, a devastating new survey of the stricken Mozambique farm was released. Scientists at the conference assumed that the fungus was limited to a single plot. The new report suggested the entire plantation was infested, expanding 125 diseased acres to more than 3,500. All told, 7 million banana plants were doomed to wilt and rot.
“The future looks bleak,” says Altus Viljoen, the South African plant pathologist who organized the conference. “There’s no way they’ll be able to stop any further spread if they continue to farm.” Worse, he says, the disease’s rapid spread endangers banana crops beyond Mozambique’s borders.
With an incubation period of about two to three years, it is possible that the same mechanism that likely caused the African outbreak—infected dirt, carried inadvertently—is already at work in our hemisphere. “The workers who set up those plantations are now back home,” says Randy Ploetz, the Florida-based plant pathologist who first identified Foc-TR4 in the 1980s. “So if we assume it is fairly easy to move this thing and soil from wherever it is—Southeast Asia or Jordan or Mozambique—then it is possible it is already in Latin America. Only time will tell.”