‘Apocalyptic’ fungus threatens banana production

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BOGOTA — Nearly all the world’s bananas are grown in Latin America, where a hard-to-kill fungus is now creating “almost apocalyptic” conditions for the most popular variation of the fruit.

The fungus, a strain of fusarium oxysporum called Tropical Race 4 (or simply TR 4), was first discovered in Taiwan and has since ravaged crops in Lebanon, Israel, India and Australia. Now it has been found in Colombia, the third-largest banana exporter in the world, according to the Colombian Agricultural Institute.

The fungus lives in the soil and can be transmitted on boots or spread from banana plants when they are replanted, according to Wired. Then the fungus infects the banana plants’ roots, killing off the fruit by cutting off the plants’ pathways for water and nutrients.

There is no known fungicide or control method to combat the fungus. “As far as I know, ICA and the farms are doing a good job in terms of containment, but eradication is almost impossible,” Fernando García-Bastidas, a Colombian scientist, told National Geographic.

If the fungus expands and kills more fruit, it could mean higher prices and lower stocks of bananas in nations that import the popular fruit, the United States among them. For those in Latin America who rely on the banana as a fundamental nutrition source, Nat Geo notes, the impact could be more serious.

The fruit is in dire straits. “What we’re having is an almost apocalyptic scenario,” Sarah Gurr, Exeter University’s chair in food security, told Wired.

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