Banana is going extinct!
‘Going bananas’ no longer means ‘becoming insane’ or ‘being over
enthusiastic about something’. It has become a present-day reality!
Banana is going extinct!
Bananas are everywhere… found abundantly in market shelves, savoured in
everyday meals, used in various preparations and in different forms (as
banana and as plantain), and relished by people all across the globe…
Can this so readily-available fruit, which is an essential part of
our everyday diet, become extinct?
Yes, it can and it is going extinct!
Banana is the world’s most exported fruit, and the fourth most important
food commodity after rice, wheat and maize, as per the UN Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO). Banana ranks second after citrus fruit
in terms of value. Then, what can possibly harm this world’s fruitbowl
favourite? Well, let’s explore the causes step-by-step.
Members of the genus Musa (part of the family Musaceae),
Bananas (Musa paradisiaca L.) are derived from the wild species
Musa acuminata (AA) and Musa balbisiana (BB). It is
believed that there are almost 1000 varieties of bananas in the world,
subdivided into 50 groups. The most commonly known banana is the
Cavendish variety, which is the one produced for export markets.
The evolving banana
When people first discovered this fruit thousands of years ago, they did
not quite like the almost inedible giant wild bananas. Rare and
accidental mutations produced seedless bananas through chromosome
triplication. People focused on these seedless, pollen-less mutant
bananas and grew edible bananas by grafting sterile mutants onto wild
This process was
repeated for thousands of years to produce the plantation banana that
currently feeds millions of people globally. Eventually, edible banana
flesh retained only a few vague traces of the viable seeds once carried
in the ancestral wild stock. These mutant bananas are emasculated,
sterile and defenseless against the environmental stresses and diseases.
India is the world’s biggest banana grower, with an annual production of
more than 16.8 million tonnes, or over 20 percent of total world output
of 72.6 million tonnes recorded in 2005. India had contributed
significantly to the “global genetic base of bananas,” according to
NeBambi Lutaladio, FAO’s agriculture officer. But, wild banana species
are disappearing in India!The main reason is that banana has become
sterile and seedless as a result of 10,000 years of selective breeding.
It has, over time, become a plant with unvarying genetic resemblance.
The genetic diversity needed to cope with environmental stresses, such
as diseases and crop pests, has long ago been bred out of the banana.
No place to grow
The lands that were available for the wild bananas to flourish, have
been taken over by industries and other projects, and the shrinking
forest cover has also led to a rapid loss of wild banana species in
India. The ancestors of the Cavendish variety, the large, pulpy dessert
banana that currently accounts for virtually all of world trade are also
part of this group.
India’s lost bananas
include a variety which conferred genetic resistance to the dreaded
Black Sigatoka fungus disease that devastated plantations in the Amazon
and elsewhere. Only one clone of the species, whose scientific name is
Musa Acuminata spp Burmannicoides, remains at the Indian Botanic
Gardens in Calcutta.
“But due to ecosystem
destruction, it is probable that many valuable gene sources have now
been lost,” Lutaladio said. “That could cause serious problems because
bananas, particularly commercial varieties, have a narrow genetic pool
and are highly vulnerable to pests and diseases,” he said. This means,
the extinction of wild bananas may soon lead to extinction of Bananas!
manipulation, complacency and inattention may soon lead to complete
disappearance of a delectable, nutritious and widely preferred fruit.
If this can happen to the world’s most popular fruit,
imagine what could happen to more obscure, but no less useful plants
whose fates are less publicised and open to public attention!