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Slipping away

      Going Bananas...      

‘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.

    Meet the Fruit    

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 stems. 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.

       In India...      

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 esemblance. 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 ndustries 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! Reckless genetic 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!

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Going bananas...