There’s more at stake than just fruit in the fight to stop a devastating agricultural disease.
Illustration by Tom Eichacker
In case you hadn’t heard the news, bananas as we know them are swiftly dying. As it turns out, those big, curvy yellow fruit we see every day at grocery stores are all cloned descendants of the Cavendish banana, a cultivar deemed hearty and productive enough to evade disease, travel the globe, and still net farmers a profit. Composing 99 percent of commercially exported bananas, these bananas are the archetype of agricultural monoculture. After their ascendance in the 1950s, the Cavendish held out well for decades, until back in the ‘80s disease finally caught up with the ubiquitous breed. Now an especially brutal sickness called Fusarium Oxysporum Tropical Race Four (or, colloquially, Banana HIV thanks to its incurable potency), a soil-borne fungus, is ripping through the genetically identical plants of the global Cavendish supply.