Two years ago, the United Nations warned that the “Panama disease” could destroy “much of the world’s banana crop.”Since then, things have not gotten better. A new outbreak was discovered last year in Australia. The disease started in Asia in the 1990s, and later spread to Africa and the Middle East.World health officials worry the disease could travel to Latin America, one of the top banana producers in the world.

All this is a big concern because bananas are an important source of income and nutrients for millions of people. They are grown in 135 tropical nations.The United Nations lists bananas as one of the most important foods, along with rice, wheat and corn. In 2011, farmers produced 107 metric tons, the UN said.A website says bananas also contain serotonin, which it says makes people feel happy.

Randy Ploetz is a professor at the Tropical Research & Educational Center at the University of Florida. Many consider him as America’s top banana expert, or, “top banana.”As he explained, Panama disease affects the Cavendish banana. The Cavendish is one of more than 500 kinds of bananas. But it is the most popular.“The industry is waking up to the problem,” Ploetz said. “They are pretty scared.”

Ploetz said reports Cavendish banana production could end are not correct. But if the disease spreads to Latin America, it could hurt the world’s economy along with food supplies for millions of people.Still, he said there is reason for hope. Scientists in Australia are working on a genetically engineered banana that might not be at risk of getting Panama disease. But Ploetz wondered if people are ready to accept genetically engineered bananas.

Robert Bertram is chief scientist for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). He said bananas are important to many millions of people all over the world.“In Africa, Asia and tropical America, bananas and plantains are an important food source for more than 100 million people,” he told VOA.“As a cash crop, bananas are sold in local, regional and international markets,” Bertram said. Banana exports provide jobs and foreign money that producing countries need, he said.

Bertram said USAID is organizing a worldwide effort to stop the growth of Panama disease.A fungus, known as TR4, causes the Panama disease.

At Wageningen University in the Netherlands, researchers are looking for Cavendish replacements. Their work is difficult. Researchers said a replacement will have to resist Panama disease, and survive the shipping time needed to get bananas to stores thousands of miles away from banana fields.And, yes, they will have to taste good.

Last edited by ocean2333 (2016-12-04 16:21:12)