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Why Grocery Stores May Be Facing a Banana Shortage

The tropical race fungus threatens to devastate banana crops worldwide.

The world's banana supply may be in trouble. According to recent science reports, a COVID-19 equivalent in the banana world, caused by a fungus, is spreading like a pandemic. The Tropical Race Fungus, or TR4, may soon obliterate the crop in South America, which constitutes about 80% of the world's Cavendish banana exports.

The Cavendish variety of banana accounts for nearly 99% of all global banana exports, according to the Smithsonian Magazine, and is the only type of banana with which many people outside of tropical growing regions are familiar. Because Cavendish bananas are a monoculture, meaning they lack genetic diversity seen in most other fruits and vegetables, a single type of fungus can decimate banana crops across entire nations and even across continents. (Related: McDonald's Is Making These 8 Major Upgrades.)

TR4 is just such a fungus; it infects banana plants from the soil upward, causing leaves to turn yellow, wilt, then fall from the plant, eventually killing the plant. The fungus can linger in soil for years before its destruction begins and it spreads rapidly from one plant to the next. In just the last few years, the fungus has been detected in South Asia, the Middle East, and even more recently in South and Central American countries.

While a shortage is still a ways away, its onset could be disastrous. A global Cavendish banana crop collapse would mean scarcity for western shoppers, and mark a financial catastrophe for growers, exporters, and retailers worldwide. According to data from The American Journal of Transportation, bananas, the worldwide top selling type of fruit or vegetable, accounted for some $14.7 billion in revenues in the year 2019.

For more on groceries you may have a harder time finding on the shelves this year, check out Grocery Shortages To Expect in 2021, According to Experts. And don't forget to sign up for our newsletter to get the latest restaurant news delivered straight to your inbox.

Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more about Steven
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