“The monoculture, the reliance on a single banana breed that makes all this possible — that makes the low margins work — also makes that fruit very susceptible to disruption,” said Dan Koeppel, who has traveled to 30 countries to sample varieties and wrote Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. “The biggest problem is disease.”
A lack of plant diversity isn’t unique to bananas. After a history in which more than 7,000 species were cultivated for human consumption, today just four crops — rice, wheat, corn and potatoes — are responsible for more than 60pc of human energy intake, the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization estimates.
Losing breeds can be costly. When Gros Michel was killed off, the Cavendish proved immune to the fungus strain, though the bananas were smaller, less hardy and not as tasty, Koeppel said by phone from Los Angeles. It allowed the industry to recover, but the new variety required shipping in smaller boxes rather than big containers, he said. It took years to convert operations from farms to retailers.
Well it’s worse than this, because the Cavendish is a clone. Which is why the disease problem and why sex. Because that mixing of genes means not clones and thus one parasite won’t wipe out an entire species.