ASENIOR lecturer from the University of Exeter’s Biosciences department is leading a study intended to save the world from “Bananageddon.”
Dr. Dan Bebber and his team hope to investigate how banana plants resist fungal infection, in order to prevent them disappearing from supermarket shelves.
With a new strain of Panama Disease spreading worldwide from Asia, the work of this research team comes at an opportune moment to protect the Cavendish species of banana, the only variety that is traded internationally. Concerns come following the extinction of the Gros Michel banana from Panama disease in the 1950s.
Any spread of the banana-killing disease in countries that produce the fruit could result in not only shortages in shops, but also in a disruption to the global banana trade. Such disruption could entail difﬁ culties for plantation workers, producers and others whose livelihood depends on this industry.
Fairtrade estimates the number of workers involved to be upwards of 1.65 million.
Bebber’s team therefore aim to calculate the shortages that consumers and retailers should expect, as well as how climate change and disease inﬂuence banana yield and supply. Research will also involve working with retails to devise new pricing systems for the bananas as well as examining how consumers will react to any changes in price.
In addition, they will work with public health bodies in order to determine the effects on consumers’ diets a scarcity of bananas would have.
Bebber himself has voiced concerns about the implications reduced banana production could have on public health, claiming that “if bananas became more expensive, people might switch to less healthy snacks.” He also addressed the “serious economic impacts on producers in the developing world,” such a scarcity would cause.
Dr Adam Staines from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, one of the sponsors of the scheme, has said:
”This research will provide an understanding of future disease threats, work on potential new antifungalents to stop these diseases, and understand the socio-economic context of disease outbreak.”
The project has been given £1.2m of funding by partners. It will last for three years and begins this month.