The humble banana is a key staple in most fruit bowls and everyone’s go-to cure for cramps, but the Cavendish banana variety we find in most stores today was not always the world’s top variety.
In the 1950s, Gros Michell was the banana variety of choice for production across the entire production industry. However, this meant that when Panama disease ravaged the crop, almost the entire global banana crop was affected. Researchers turned to the Cavendish variety, which was resistant to the disease, to solve the crisis, thus leading to the birth of the new banana.
Unfortunately, this did not solve the issue of monoculture, where a lack of diversity in crops makes the entire industry highly susceptible to bouts of disease. Sure enough, this year, Colombia, a large banana producer, declared a state of emergency as Tropical Race 4 (TR4) ravaged Cavendish crops.
So, how can we prevent a global banana crisis? The tech industry may just have the solution. Similarly to the banana, early tech inventions were generally uniform in software. This meant that, much like a banana, a single virus could threaten the entire system. Tech designers solved this by introducing artificial variety into products. Essentially they mixed around the guts of devices and systems.
Drawing from the tech industry, we see that diversity is key. Developing a variety of commercial banana strains with different disease immunities could be critical for preventing large scale wipeouts of global crops. This could take many years, but if you see the fruit that looks a little different on a future trip to the grocery store, don’t go bananas, it’s a good thing.