From baked goods to smoothies, bananas prove to be an extremely diverse and widely consumed fruit. With 100 billion eaten each year around the world, it is a fruit that we should all consider buying organic especially because we do not have a local option in North America. The banana we know and love today is not always what it used to be. Today’s variety, the Cavendish, was only brought into production in the 1960’s after Panama disease wiped out the Gros Michel, or “Big Mike” breed. This fruit differed in size, taste, texture, and genetics, and cannot be easily found today in North American markets. Rooted in Central America, Panama disease affected the vascular system of the Gros Michel plant and managed to shut down plantations around the world. It took substantial financial investments (and plenty of deforestation) for the markets to shift into widespread cultivation of Cavendish bananas, but the transition went rather smoothly. Huzzah! The world was saved from a bananapocalypse! But in the 1990’s, the ever-persistent Panama disease once again reared its ugly head much to the distaste of banana farmers and consumers. Unfortunately, Cavendish bananas are not immune to this strain of the disease.
Banana trees possess a property known as parthenocarpy, which means the plant can produce fruit even in the absence of pollination. Commercial banana farming commonly involves cutting a section from an existing plant and transplanting it to create a clone tree. This widespread practice has created very low genetic diversity among Cavendish populations, increasing the entire variety’s susceptibility to ailments including Panama disease. This weakness is combatted with high levels of pesticide use which has the potential to harm not only the consumer, but most significantly the farmers. Though North American consumers cannot buy bananas locally for obvious reasons, it is definitely an item that we should all consider buying organic, even more so if you eat a lot of this fruit. (And it is probably a good idea to indulge while you still can, as the demise of the Cavendish is predicted to be in the near future!)