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Sylvain Charlebois is scientific director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

Through dietary fads, grocery-store revolutions and food-guide updates, bananas have remained a staple of produce aisles across North America. Canada alone imports more than $600-million worth of bananas annually, and the average Canadian will consume more than 15 kilograms of bananas a year; they represent more than 9 per cent of all fruits imported here. And they align with this ecoconscious moment: They can be eaten anywhere, require no refrigeration and have a naturally food-safe peel, thus requiring no plastic wrapping. They’re nutritious, plentiful, affordable and at supermarkets across North America, downright expected.

So it might shock you to learn that the world is slowly running out of bananas. And they may not remain so ubiquitous – or, if they do, they won’t be nearly as cheap.

After years of dread, the banana-killing fungus Fusarium TR4 – also known as Panama disease, and which has already been detected in the Middle East, Asia and Australia – reportedly reached Latin America for the first time. Colombia discovered its first case in early August. Ecuador could be next.

Fusarium TR4 spreads through human activity, on clothing and on footwear, and can remain dormant in soil for decades. It can metastasize among banana crops at an explosive rate of about 100 kilometres a year, as their asexuality means that the disease can spread more quickly through genetics.

Alarmingly, while banana growers are taking preventative measures, such as asking workers to clean their clothing before they enter plantations, there is no known treatment that has proven effective against the disease, at least to this point. Support for research in plant science, too, is not often made a priority in the typically poorer regions of the world where these crops are grown. And breeding bananas is also extremely difficult and expensive. Other than strict biosecurity measures, nothing can stop the disease from spreading further.

This fungus poses no real medical risks to humans. But it could devastate the crop, and for the produce that is then sold to the United States and Canada; most of the bananas we consume are from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia and Ecuador. For Latin Americans, this is a huge threat to a major food source and one of the most important exports coming out of the region.

But Fusarium TR4 is only a symptom of the real, deeper problem: The fact that major companies such as Chiquita and Dole rely on a banana monoculture.

Almost exclusively, commercial banana plantations grow a single clonal variety called the Cavendish: the long, yellow banana that most Canadians are acquainted with. Like all other monocultures – meaning that the variety shares genetic material – the Cavendish’s dominance is unsustainable in the face of an effective disease. More cultivars, therefore, mean fewer risks: Canada, for instance, is home to over 7,000 different varieties of apples.

Ironically, the Cavendish variety was created to replace the Gros Michel banana, which was the major banana cultivar until the 1950s, when an earlier strain of Panama disease nearly eradicated the global supply. Forced to find a variety that’s resistant to Panama disease while also being adaptable to large-scale production with a long shelf life and hardy peel, Chiquita and Dole switched production to the Cavendish.

Those companies, however, appear to have rested on their laurels in the intervening decades. And now, with no similar banana in the pipeline as Fusarium TR4 looks to be able to tear through the Cavendish crop, the industry is in a state of panic. According to Bloomberg, the price for U.S. imported bananas exceeded $1,200 a metric ton for the first time this year, and markets are expecting prices to continue to soar.

We don’t expect to run out of bananas any time soon; both Chiquita and Dole have too much to lose. Several plantations are already under quarantine and will be protected by highly restrictive biosecurity measures. But at some point, retail prices in North America will start to reflect these higher farmgate prices.

For the sake of the fruit itself, farmers need more cultivars. For its survival, the complicated but necessary task of banana breeding will be key moving forward. And Canada, with our internationally renowned plant scientists, are already chipping in; provinces such as Ontario, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Quebec are experimenting with small-scale banana farms in greenhouses and outside in gardens.

But regardless of our efforts, we can’t simply replace the imported fruits Canadians rely on. We’re best suited to support the efforts of scientists and farmers in Latin America – after all, they’re the top bananas in their fields.

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