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World’s bananas in trouble as devastating fungus reaches Colombia

Say goodbye to the banana as we know it? Not quite, but we’re getting closer.

Colombia on Thursday confirmed that a nefarious fungus has managed to make its way to Latin America.

Panama disease Tropical Race 4—or TR4—infects the soil, and there’s currently no way to eradicate it. It was first found in Taiwan nearly three decades ago and has since reached Southeast Asia, Australia, Africa, and the Middle East.

TR4’s arrival in Latin America, the world’s powerhouse banana exporter, spurred Colombia to declare a national state of emergency, reports Science, which details other biosecurity measures the country is taking. Bananas grown in infected soil are edible, but an infected banana plant will ultimately cease production.

For Latin America, it could be devastating; the region is home to four of the world’s top five exporters.

There’s some precedent here. A century ago what’s now called TR1 all but did away with the Gros Michel banana. What we now know as the banana—a variety called the Cavendish—was initially written off as too bland but was ultimately substituted out of desperation.

Our reliance on that one variety puts us in a precarious situation, and unlike last time, “there’s no ready replacement banana to bail out the industry.” Yes, thousands of varieties exist, but just a few can “withstand the rigors of large-scale commercial cultivation, long-distance transport, and international marketing,” reports National Geographic. “A banana with those characteristics, a taste and appearance similar to the beloved Cavendish, and resistance to TR4 does not exist.” (Read about one failed quest to find a worthy successor.)

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