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Japan: Okayama researcher claims non-tropical bananas are a success

The bananas grown in Okayama Prefecture, where the temperature drops below zero in winter, are attracting attention at home and abroad. After some 40 years of research, Setsuzo Tanaka, who had no farming experience, developed a method to enable bananas to survive cold weather. His work enables the cultivation of the fruit outside tropical or subtropical regions.

Named Monge, meaning ‘super’ in the Okayama dialect, the banana was developed based on the Gros Michel, a variety that was widely grown worldwide until about 50 years ago. Monge bananas are very much in demand, even though a box of three sells for a hefty price of ¥4,860 (€37). But prices are high now the pesticide-free fruit is gaining popularity for its rich and sweet taste and edible skin.

Tanaka first brought banana plants from Okinawa and planted them in a greenhouse warmed by a heater, but the plants did not survive. Then he thought if he put a banana plant in an environment where the temperature would drop slowly, he might be able to bring out in banana plants the ability to adjust to cold weather.

After several failed attempts, he tried soaking parts of the plants in a special liquid and freezing them slowly by gradually decreasing the temperature of a freezer to minus 60o Celsius over six months.

According to japantimes.co.jp, the plants that went through this freezing procedure managed to grow. In fact, he found that they grow faster than typical bananas and that more fruit can be harvested in a shorter period. He said the method could be used with other tropical plants, such as coffee beans and papayas, and that the crops can be cultivated mostly without pesticides. Tanaka’s bananas can be cultivated outdoors, but he grows them in a greenhouse to protect them from typhoons. Tanaka established a company in 2015 and began full-scale production last year.

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