This may sound ridiculous, but there is a deadly disease that is threatening to wipe out bananas. Is this the end then for America's favourite fruit?
Did you know that 95% of banana exports to the United States are just one variety? They're called Cavendish, and they are all grown in multiple South American countries.
Now, there are thousands of varieties out there, but the US public is picky. They shop with their eyes, and the blemish-free yellow smiles of the Cavendish is more appealing than any other strain. And that's the problem. Many other bananas are tastier, but their skins are either full of unsightly marks or remain green when ripe. And Americans don't want to eat green bananas.
The Cavendish bananas are under threat from something called Panama Disease. It's a fungus that destroys the plant from the inside out, and it's wreaking havoc in countries across Latin America. The issue is that the Cavendish is what they call monoculture. Basically, it's the cultivation of a single crop in a given area. And it's a multi-billion dollar industry that is under threat.
If only humans learned from history, then things like this could be avoided. Just over 50 years ago, this same disease spread from Guatemala to Panama, Columbia and Ecuador, literally wiping out the original banana that created the industry. It was called the Gros Michel, and it was bigger and tastier than the Cavendish, but by 1960, it was commercially extinct.
Now, instead of diversifying and growing a variety of bananas, they decided to find a replacement for the Gros Michel that looked as similar as possible. They found the Cavendish, which, although the Brits like to claim it's theirs, actually originated in Mauritius. Regardless, the Brits exported some plants, and the industry breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Until now, that is. With plants dying in fields in all the same countries as before, the race is on to find a more robust replacement for this lucrative market. One could argue that Americans only choose the Cavendish because it's all they've known for the last five decades. So, perhaps introducing a variety of bananas would allow the industry to learn more about the buying public.
But, no, they're splicing various strains together, they want to create a hybrid that looks the same but is resistant to Panama Disease.
The question remains, is this the end of the banana? Well, to find out more, Vice News sent correspondent, Isobel Yeung, to the heart of the banana country to investigate.