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Bananas are examples of 'hyper-optimised food products'

Bananas are the most consumed fruit in the world. They have had this distinction for decades now. In a three-part article written by Daniel Stone in National Geographic, he describes the route that brought bananas to the top of consumer lists. He also delves into the threats facing this sector.



Bananas are the fourth most valuable food stuff in the world, after grains, rice and milk. Although there are many different varieties, only the Cavendish is suitable for worldwide export. This banana is a clone, meaning each banana is genetically identical. This makes it an example of an 'hyper-optimised food stuff'. But, it also makes the banana vulnerable.

Bananas were first introduced in the US on a large scale in 1876. This was at the Centennial International Exhibition in Philadelphia, also known as the Wold's Fair. This yellow fruit became instantly popular and American companies started investing in banana cultivation in Central and South America. Despite the fact that the market was growing, and profits were rising, plantation workers were being paid less than the minimum wage in America. The large plantations were so powerful, local governments could do very little to stop this practice.

The biggest threat to bananas does not lie with market developments or labour conditions. In April 2016, CORBANA, the Costa Rican organisation for banana and pineapple exporters, organised a congress for the banana sector. A few weeks before the congress was to take place, it was moved to Miami. This was to prevent the dreaded TR4 from gaining a foothold in Costa Rica. Although this is not a new diseases, the sector seems to be nervous about its effects. What this means for the future of bananas is uncertain. A genetic sister of the Cavendish could be a temporary solution and a modified banana could ensure its long term cultivation. A completely new variety could also be sought.


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