Actually, this wouldn’t be the first time the banana has been wiped out. Gros Michel or “Big Mike” was a very widespread variety of banana commonly found at markets, but during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s it was devastated by a blight, Panama disease, and later Sigatoka disease. To avoid the blight and match the high demand, companies like United Fruit Company bought large plots of land to create plantations. Paired with corruption in the government, much of the land was bought right out from under the feet of native people who later worked under horrible conditions. As tensions built between the people and the government, the United States became heavily involved both politically and militarily to maintain the fruit companies hold over Latin America.
If anyone wants a juicy drama about corruption, power struggles, and fungi, just read some Latin American history.
Panama disease is nothing new, but it is a serious threat to monocultures of crops that lack genetic diversity. People thought our current banana variety, the Cavendish, was immune, but it is not. Genetic engineering holds some promise, but it is unclear what solution will be best given that we’ve grown accustom to our current fruit.
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Take a guess about what happened to the United Fruit Company.