The Panama disease once again threatens to wipe out the crop key to economies across Asia, Latin America and beyond. Some scientists claim that Vietnam will lose up to 71% of its banana-producing land in 25 years to a type of fungus called Fusarium.
The dangers of Fusarium came under the spotlight in the 1950s, when the fungus devastated banana plants in and around Panama. Dubbed Panama disease, the epidemic subsided only after inflicting billions of dollars in damage to growers and nearly wiping out production of the Gros Michel cultivar.
Half of the bananas grown in the world today are the Cavendish, which has been relatively resistant to Fusarium wilt. But a new strain that emerged in the 1990s is now attacking Cavendish bananas in Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
The fungal strain has been reported in roughly 20 countries, hitching rides on infected plants or on people via contaminated soil or planting material. The only sure way to curb its spread is by quarantine.