Experts said the global crop of bananas, worth £3billion a year, was at risk of “massive destruction” as the fungal disease spreads from Asia to Africa and the Middle East. It could lead to reduced stocks in UK supermarkets or a rise in prices if the crisis worsens. More than 100 million tons of bananas are traded a year, with about five million consumed in Britain. They are the most-bought product in UK supermarkets. On average, Britons eat 22lb (10kg) of the energy-rich, nutritious fruit every year, equivalent to about 100 bananas per person. But a strain of Panama disease know as TR4 is now threatening production and export of the fourth-most important food crop for the world’s poorest countries. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said that as yet there is no cure for TR4. Crucially, the disease particularly affects the Cavendish variety of banana which accounts for nearly half the world’s crop.
The disease affects the banana tree but not the fruit itself. Experts say the only solution is to cut down the trees, dig trenches to prevent its spread and impose strict quarantine measures. Panama disease can remain active for decades. In the 1950s, a strain wiped out plantations in Central and South America. Concern is now focused on Latin America, including the world’s main producer Ecuador. The region has so far been unaffected this time, but the FAO warned there was now a “potential” risk. Gert Kema, director of the banana research programme at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said: “I think it’s sheer luck. “It’s not a question of whether it will arrive but when. “There’s no prevention.” He said the availability of bananas in Europe and the US had not yet been hit by the disease because their main suppliers were in Latin America. But this would change if the disease spread to these major producers. Fazil Dusunceli, a plant pathologist at the FAO, said: “Countries need to act now if we are to avoid the worst-case scenario, which is massive destruction of much of the world’s banana crop.” Express