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Bananas ‘at risk of extinction’

Bananas are at risk of disappearing from supermarket shelves altogether unless unsustainable production methods are changed.

This was the stark assessment offered by trade unions and small producer representatives at this week’s World Banana Forum who warned that the emergence and rapid spread of the True Race 4 (TR4) pathogen has exposed the lack of resilience and diversity in the US$25 billion global banana trade.

The new pathogen affects banana crops worldwide; it has already spread across much of Asia and is on the rise in Africa and Australia where it was detected in 2015 and again in 2017. Although the disease has yet to arrive in Latin America, no barrier to its spread there has yet been identified. If the disease were to take hold in the region, the GMB Union said it would have “devastating consequences” for banana exports to the UK and Europe.

The GMB is joining other unions and small producers to argue than unless there is a shift in the production model away from low-paid, large-scale monocultures towards more diverse, resilient systems that distribute value fairly along the supply chain, the banana faced potential extinction.

“The system for the production and trade of dessert bananas is little more than a house of cards built on the shaky foundations of monoculture and genetic uniformity,” said Bert Schouwenburg, GMB International Officer. “This house of cards threatens to collapse at any moment.”

Britons alone eat 5 billion bananas every year. And Schouwenburg said producers, retailers and unions must take advantage of the Forum to map out a sustainable future for the banana.