BOGOTA, COLUMBIA — Officials from the Colombian Agricultural and Livestock Authority have confirmed that the tropical race 4 fungus has spread to the country's Cavendish banana plantations.
Cavendish bananas dominate the global export market.
The Cavendish are a monoculture, meaning they have identical genetics and are therefore equally vulnerable to the fungus.
Food producers tend to raise crops with little to no gene diversity in order to grow fruits and vegetables efficiently and at a lower cost.
Panama disease Tropical Race 4, also called TR4, is spread through infected planting material as well as infested soil and water, according to Promusa.org, a platform that shares information related to bananas.
Once the fungus is in the soil of the Cavendish banana plant, it stops water from entering the plant, essentially disrupting its vascular system.
The infected plants eventually stop producing fruit.
According to Promusa.org, the TR4 fungus cannot be removed from the plantation soil by use of fumigants, a type of pesticide for fields, or by fungicides, a type of chemical to destroy fungus.
The website suggests rotating the banana plants with fungus-resistant crops such as leeks in order for bananas to continue to be produced in the same soil.
The TR4 fungus was first identified in Taiwan and has since been found in Southeast Asia, Australia, the Middle East, Africa and now in Latin America, according to the National Geographic.
This is not the first time the banana industry has faced this kind of crisis.
In the 1950s, the Gros Michel[g][h][i] was the main variety of banana grown for export.
It was declared commercially extinct in 1965 due to a different strain of Panama disease.
Gros Michel trees were burned down and it was replaced by the Cavendish, which was immune to that disease.