Homes: Something to be thankful for

Bananas supply could be affected by monoculture disease

  • Dec. 17, 2015 1:00 p.m.

Bananas aren’t exactly seasonal fare, at least as far as Christmas is concerned.

First off, they are a terrible colour to match to the traditional yule tones of green, red, silver or royal blue.

Then there’s the flavour, which most of us associate with summer.

Even the most diehard fusion foodies would probably cringe at the very suggestion of adulterating traditional foods into such culinary monstrosities as banana candy canes, banana fruit cake, banana eggnog or banana-infused turkey.

Yet this ubiquitous fruit is ever-present at breakfast, whether on peanut butter toast, in smoothies or sliced on cereal, and the au natural version (which comes with its own handy packaging) can be found in the lunch bags of ordinary people around the globe.

In fact, this fruit is so common, inexpensive and readily available year-round that most of us take it for granted, and yet the banana as we know it is going extinct.

If you were born 1960 or later (like myself), then chances are you have been enjoying just one variety of banana your entire life – which is commonly referred to as the ‘Cavendish’ or ‘Dwarf Cavendish’.

Prior to this, almost all commercially grown bananas were a variety called Gros Michel (a better tasting and larger fruit), which fell prey to a fusarium wilt fungus called Panama disease that nearly wiped it out in the 1950s.

This appears to be happening all over again with a new fungal strain (called Tropical Race 4, or TR4), which has infected plantations as far afield as the Philippines, China, Australia, Africa, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan.

The problem is that commercial growers have decided to rely on a single variety, thus creating a worldwide monoculture which can be susceptible when a new disease shows up – this despite the fact that there are almost a thousand varieties of bananas grown across the globe, all of which have the potential for breeding for disease resistance.

The best tactic thus far (it cannot be controlled by fungicides and lives in the soil where it will infect all new plantings) has been containment, as TR4 does not yet have a foothold in the important banana-growing regions of central and South America.

But even the experts agree, it is only a matter of time.

So make sure you savour that lowly banana the next time you peel one, because by next Christmas they too may be hard to find.

While we’re on the subject of things to be thankful for, let’s not forget the many people who cross our paths throughout the year.

They may be friends, acquaintances or family who we may only see occasionally, but like our bananas, they won’t always be there.

So take the time to send them a Christmas card, bake them some shortbread cookies, share a glass of wine or just shake their hand and wish them season’s greetings.

And while you’re at it, take a little time for yourself to just slow down and enjoy the ambiance of the one time of year when people actually think of one another.

It’s okay to put the  shopping on hold, stop worrying about all the things you have to do before Christmas and just take a moment to be a kid again.

Maybe go skating or take your children tobogganing on the local mountains, or look up at the stars in the night sky and be amazed.

It’s a wonderful life. But you only get one, so make it merry, and, by the way, happy Christmas.

 

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

 

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