“Global banana industry could be wiped out in just five to 10 years”, leading scientists

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 15th August 2016

A group of scientists are warning that bananas could become a delicacy within ten years unless a solution can be found to fungal diseases plaguing the banana industry.

The warning comes after the group of US and Netherlands scientists mapped the DNA sequence of one of the main funguses threatening the banana industry, an achievement which could help others figure out how best to fight the fungus problems.

Published online by PLOS Genetics Journal, the research revealed scientists were able to map the DNA sequence of the Pseudocercospora fungus which is behind three different types of funguses threatening bananas.

The mapping includes that of the DNA sequence behind the Black Sigatoka fungi, which can effect Cavendish bananas, the most commonly grown variety of bananas in the world.

“Black Sigatoka has a huge social, ecological and economic impact worldwide,” said one of the scientists involved in the DNA mapping,” Professor Gert Kema.

“Thanks to the sequencing of the DNA of the Pseudocercospora fungus we are now gaining a greater insight into the interaction between the fungus and the banana plant. This provides us with leads for increasing the sustainability of banana cultivation, making it better for the environment, the local population and the economy. For example, the insights offer us opportunities to develop a banana plant that is suitable for production and export, and which is also resistant against Black Sigatoka,” Professor Kema said.

Fifty applications of fungicide per year is required 

One of the US scientists, Ioannis Stergiopoulos, said even though bananas are considered a global food staple with over 140 million tonnes produced annually, the fruit could soon become rare, if fungus diseases are not fought off.

“The fruit also suffers from an “image problem,” giving consumers the appearance that it is and always will be readily available,” University of California Davis molecular plant pathologist, Ioannis Stergiopoulos said.

“In reality, the global banana industry could be wiped out in just five to 10 years by fast-advancing fungal diseases.  Already, the Sigatoka disease complex can reduce banana yields by 50-70 per cent, if not controlled,” Stergiopoulo stated.

“Managing the disease requires over 50 applications of fungicide per year, which is prohibitively expensive for smallholder farmers, who consequently are left to the mercy of the disease,” he said.