Yes, We Have No Bananas

In what can only be described as poetic injustice, the most priapic fruit in the world may go extinct within five to ten years for lack of sex. I feel for you, brutha. India’s glorious, 12″ long banana fruit has been neutered by the cruel, cruel world (thanks, tipster):

The world’s most popular fruit… is in deep trouble. Its genetic base, the wild bananas and traditional varieties cultivated in India, has collapsed…

The main hope for survival of the Cavendish [variety] lies in developing new hybrids resistant to the [black sigatoka] fungus, but… the seedless modern fruit does not reproduce sexually and has to be bred from cuttings.

… wild banana species are rapidly going extinct as Indian forests are destroyed… In fact many of the genes that could save the Cavendish may already have been lost… One variety that contains genes that resist black sigatoka survives as a single plant in the botanical gardens of Calcutta… [Link]

The banana’s problem is that it is the seedless, infertile mutant cousin of a wild herb. The absence of seeds makes its fruit edible, but also genetically vulnerable… They have survived only because for some 10,000 years banana-lovers have propagated the fruit by taking shoots from the base of the plants…

The most widespread banana disease currently is a leaf fungus called black Sigatoka. It cuts yields by 50 percent or more on hundreds of millions of small farms across the tropics. Commercial banana plantations keep up production with weekly applications of fungicides – the most intensive application of chemicals on any major food crop. But now a new strain of an old disease, Panama disease, threatens to make even fungicides useless…

“In the 1970s we controlled Black Sigatoka by spraying 10 to 12 times a year…” That frequency has jumped to almost weekly… [Link]

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p>Our Cuban brothers have access to a hybrid fruit which I dub the banapple. In Uganda, you can even buy banana beer.

… little research has been done. Almost the only result of 80 years of endeavor has been a banana that tastes like an apple and is only eaten in Cuba, where there is nothing else on the supermarket shelves. [Link]

In the densely populated countries around Lake Victoria–Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda–bananas are primary nutrition, accounting for near-total carbohydrate consumption in some diets (in Uganda, the word for food, “matooke,” translates from Swahili as “banana”). The bananas eaten in East Africa are not the dessert-style fruit consumed in the West; they are far more versatile (there’s even a beer brewed from bananas sold in Kampala). [Link]

A banocalypse has already happened once before:

The banana producers began as railroad companies, with friendly local governments granting thousands of acres of surrounding rainforest for each mile of track laid… By the early 1900s, bananas surpassed apples as the nation’s favorite fruit…

Until the early 1960s, American cereal bowls and ice cream dishes were filled with the Gros Michel, a banana that was larger and, by all accounts, tastier than the fruit we now eat. Like the Cavendish, the Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” accounted for nearly all the sales of sweet bananas in the Americas and Europe. But starting in the early part of the last century, a fungus called Panama disease began infecting the Big Mike harvest…

the 1923 musical hit “Yes! We Have No Bananas” is said to have been written after songwriters Frank Silver and Irving Cohn were denied in an attempt to purchase their favorite fruit by a syntactically colorful, out-of-stock neighborhood grocer…

Once a little-known species, the Cavendish was eventually accepted as Big Mike’s replacement after billions of dollars in infrastructure changes were made to accommodate different growing and ripening needs. [Link]

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p>One solution is to force a reverse mutation back into sexual reproduction using seeds:

The goal of all this is to get seeds, and to use them to grow Aguilar’s experimental varieties, one of which, he hopes, will ultimately yield a tasty, market-friendly Cavendish replacement. What are the odds of an individual seed ultimately yielding a thriving hybrid? “About 1 in 10,000,” Aguilar says.

It takes about four months for a pollinated plant to bear fruit, which is harvested and brought to a processing shed for seed extraction. Workers press thousands of bananas through mesh strainers. About one seed is found for every 300 bananas. The seeds are then brought indoors, to what Aguilar calls the “embryo rescue unit.” Of the tiny number of seeds, only a third of them actually germinate. [Link]

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p>Another researcher thinks the threat of banana extinction will force the first mass adoption of genetically modified food:

How much time is left for the Cavendish? Some scientists say five years; some say 10…

The race to save the banana is personal. “The bananas,” he says, “are my children…”

Swennen emphasizes that biotech is literally the only way to save the Cavendish, which, because it is 100 percent seedless, can’t be improved on by traditional hybridization methods… “I can’t understand this romantic idea that nature is perfect, and that what we do is create Frankensteins,” Swennen says. People “are frightened–and they’re wrong.” He believes that the threats bananas face mean that they are likely to be the bioengineered food that finally forces global shoppers to consider–and accept–science’s inevitable intervention in the agricultural process. [Link]

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But if the banana does ever die out, it’s peanut butter jelly time for all of us (audio)

56 thoughts on “Yes, We Have No Bananas

  1. No bananas means no chocolate chip pancakes and no Strawberries Wild smoothies at Jamba Juice .. say it ain’t so!

  2. I find it interesting that this story is news again, three years after The New Scientist first wrote about it and similarly referenced the Silver and Cohn song for the article’s title. [Great post regardless. @=)]

  3. yeah, i sent this in into the news files of SM on May 7th those small tiny bananas are the most delicious things…

    the world is going B A N A N A S

    gwen stefani and the gang were onto something ;)

  4. increasingly, the only place where you will find many vital wild cultivars in India are in (but increasingly threatened – what isn’t?) sacred groves.

  5. We have banana shortages at my parents’ house every Wednesday afternoon. Abba forgets to stop by the market on his way home and there are only two left. He reaches….. but quickly remembers that one needs to be saved for Thursday’s breakfast and the chele will want one with breakfast too. If abba were to somehow deny amma‘s son a morning banana — flashbacks to the day he accidentally ate kashi that was reserved for one of her children and how lean he was by the time he regained a visitor’s visa to her kitchen. He puts down the banana and resigns himself to a golden apple. No one else even pretends to like those.

    A world-wide banana crisis would tear my family apart.

  6. the world is going B A N A N A S

    You know, BOTH Gwen AND MIA have songs that spell out BANANAS. Coincidence? I think not…

  7. How can you file this under humor?? It’s so sad!

    I wish plant biology was more sexed up in school. Everyone wants to be a doctor, and as a result of that even high school biology is totally focused on kingdoms bacteria and animalia. But this stuff is so fascinating! If I could do college again I’d go back and take more botany.

  8. If I could do college again I’d go back and take more botany.

    Take it from a guy who has been examining fern axes all day. It ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Animals have more fun.

  9. I agree, Saheli, this is really sad :( Maybe we can get on whoever handled the Iraq intelligence for Britain to take care of botany now? :)

    What the hell am I going to eat now anyway…I barely eat anything except bread and cheese as it is. If they kill off broccoli and spinach, I’m going to die.

  10. Those tasty little red ones will have to take up the slack for a while. Don’t they also have some wild bananas in Malaysia & Indonesia? They grow a related plant called plantains (platanos in Spanish) in tropical America. Surely there are more kinds than Cavendish.

    We ran into the same problem with potatoes in the 19th century, resulting in a horrible famine in Ireland. Deaths and emigration halved the population of that country in 50 years.

  11. The red ones and the Plantains are available in India too. So they amy have originated in India/SE Asia. There are lot of vegetables/fruits common to India all the way to SE Asis (Mango, Jackfruit, Banana, Lychee etc)

  12. In assam there is a “Bheem Kol” . This post has reminded me of those kol and my childhood .

  13. in queensland, major production area of bananas in australia, there was a cyclone earlier this year, wiping out the majority of the banana crop… now they cost like $3.30 EACH! god, they’re in danger everywhere!

  14. saheli: it’s sad.. obviously…banannas are a staple food to people all over the globe… but had to find some random humor bits in there somehow even if it might be a bit asinine, otherwise, we’d all be sour people.. and that is even sadder…

  15. Janeofalltrades: OMG all these banana lovers! I feel like such an outsider. I HATE BANANAS…They gross me out! There I said it.

    even banana shake??

  16. I held the banana
    in one hand
    and used my other
    to peel it.
    I bit once,
    chewed and swallowed;
    enjoyed it, so
    i ate some more.
    It felt good
    eating the banana.

  17. Every morning of my childhood, my mother would dump sliced, overripe bananas on top of my soggy Kellogs Corn flakes swimming around in boiling milk. No Fruit Loops, no Lucky Charms, no Kaptain Krunch for this little girl. After eating this confection, I’d have to go to school with banana-cereal-milk breath. Not a pleasant combination. Not a pleasant memory. Have been turned off to bananas ever since.

  18. even banana shake??

    No banana in any form….

    After eating this confection, I’d have to go to school with banana-cereal-milk breath. Not a pleasant combination. Not a pleasant memory. Have been turned off to bananas ever since.

    OMG GJ my banana phobia is related to childhood as well and unfortunately also includes milk and eggs in the nightmare. My father used to make me drink a concoction of milk, bananas and raw eggs!! And to this day I can’t stand the sight or smell of either. I do eat other forms of dairy but eggs and bananas make me gag.

  19. Re: “…OMG GJ my banana phobia is related to childhood as well and unfortunately also includes milk and eggs in the nightmare…”

    Oy vey. What is it with parents making children eat things that taste horrible and get made fun of at school? I always ate the bananas last, a sad little lump of sogginess in the bottom of my cereal bowl. grimace

  20. if
    i had
    one banana
    and you had one banana
    you could give me your banana
    you would be happy, but i would be happier still na?
    and we would both step out singing na-na-na-naa-nana-nan-anana.

  21. Deep thought #1
    life is like a banana. if you peel it, it becomes soft and tasty.

  22. i can eat a fresh banana.. can’t stand them in shakes, bubble gum, or other formats, with the exception of banana creme pie…no childhood forcefeeding memories..but i do remember the banana scratch n sniff stickers… haha… they are just a funny looking fruit..not as funny as the starfruit or jackfruitor sitafal..but funny nonetheless..

  23. Deep thought #2
    Life is like a banana. if you eat it from the middle, you look like you are smiling, but no. it is not true.

  24. Deep thought #3
    Life is like a banana. There’s always a nub at the end. you can not eat that. Well I do. But you dont have to.

  25. Deep thought #4
    Life is like a banana. you got to grab it in the palm of the hands, but not too hard or it becomes squishy.

  26. Deep thought #5
    Death is like a banana. especially if your insides are hollowed out by a disease, like a rotten banana at the bottom of the crate.

  27. Oi, resident banana shaayar, Dhaavak, what’s your email addy mang? And are you in town this long weekend? Lahore tikka, kashmiri chai, and paan. That’s all I can say for now.

    Apologies for the hijack, it is for a good cause…

  28. I think, “Alas, poor Yorrick… I knew him, Horatio. He was a good banana”.

  29. Deep thought #3 Life is like a banana. There’s always a nub at the end. you can not eat that. Well I do. But you dont have to.

    My mom was telling me that she has a Russian friend (I think from Moscow) who eats bananas from the nub first. This is because when you have a squishy banana, there’s something to hold on to when you get to the end. Intrigued, she asked around and found that her friend wasn’t the only one. In fact one guy she talked to was born and grew up here, and when his Russian grandmother saw him eating a banana in what we consider to be the conventional way, she laughed at him and told him he was doing it all wrong.

  30. Deeper thought #1

    Life is like a banana. If you handle it properly it can taste delicious, but if you don’t keep your wits about you, you can slip on it and painfully land on your a*s.

  31. Deeper thought #2.

    Life is like a banana. To some it is a sweet fruit to be innocently enjoyed; to others, it is a tool to be exploited for endless pleasure and debauchery.

  32. Deeper thought #3

    Life is like a banana. How you perceive its form depends on how naughty or nice your mind is.

  33. Deepest thought ever:

    If you handle it properly it can taste delicious, but if you don’t keep your wits about you, you can slip on it and painfully land on your a*s.

    I ain’t seen anybody slip their ass on a banana. EVER. Period.

  34. Deeper thought #4

    Life is like a banana. Difficult to obtain, easy to throw away.

  35. My mom was telling me that she has a Russian friend (I think from Moscow) who eats bananas from the nub first.

    My dad does the same thing and insists that’s the proper way to eat a banana, even though he’s the only person I know who eats it that way. It always seemed antisocial and perverse to me, and I thought he was the only one. I feel a little less a social outcast now.

  36. Metric,

    I ain’t seen anybody slip their ass on a banana. EVER. Period.

    I meant it in the sense of slipping on the banana peel and then landing on their butt, dammit ! Get with the programme !

    wink

  37. 2nd deepest thought ever:

    How you perceive its form depends on how naughty or nice your mind is.

    I refuse to break my bananas into pieces in order to avoid a duhty mind perceiving my wholesome biting as anything other than wholesome biting.

  38. Third deepest thought ever:

    To some it is a sweet fruit to be innocently enjoyed; to others, it is a tool to be exploited for endless pleasure and debauchery.

    I fail to see the difference between deeper thought #2 and #3. ;)

  39. Deeper thought #5

    Life is like a banana. To some it is shaped like a gun, symbolic of the constant struggle for survival against the onslaught of enemies faced during the course of one’s earthly existence. To others it is evocative of a Rampant Rabbit, symbolic of hedonism, joy, and sniggering fumblings under the blanket.