Climate change is making it harder to grow bananas, imperilling an $8 billion dollar industry and a fruit that has become an indispensable part of diets around the world, according to a new study published in the science journal Philosophical Transactions of Royal Society B.
Bananas are being threatened by a fungal disease called Black Sigatoka, which can reduce an infected tree’s yield by up to 80%, according to CNN. The infection works by killing a tree’s banana leaves.
Since the 1960s, the risk of the fungus has increased by a median of 44.2% across Latin America and the Caribbean because of rising temperatures and wetter conditions — two factors worsened by climate change.
In the years ahead, the researchers expect banana yields to plummet even further as Black Sigatoka attacks a greater number of trees and spreads to new regions.
Other diseases — including Panama disease, which once nearly wiped out banana production in Latin America — are making a comeback in other parts of the world, including throughout Asia.
The rise of infection has caused banana farmers to invest heavily in fungicides, which can increase the price of bananas in grocery stores. Adding fungicides also prevents a banana yield from being labeled “organic,” which has become more in demand in recent years.
Bananas aren’t the only crops threatened by climate change. Around the world, rising temperatures, sea level rise, droughts, extreme precipitation, and extreme storms are limiting agricultural production.
Growers of luxury crops like chocolate and coffee are expected to run out of suitable land and ideal conditions in the decades ahead; farmers in Southeast Asia have seen their rice plantations ruined by saltwater intrusion; and Cyclone Idai, an unusually powerful storm that recently struck Southern Africa, wiped out millions of acres of farmland.
Further, rising temperatures mean that pests will have longer seasonal life spans to destroy crops.
There are effective interventions, however.
In areas that are prone to droughts, floods, and storms, farmers can plant trees that stabilize the soil and protect crops. Promoting reforestation instead of deforestation can also regenerate precipitation cycles, repair ecosystems that keep pests in check, and improve the long-term viability of water sources.
Finally, practicing a holistic form of agriculture that involves planting multiple, complementary crops instead of a single monoculture, and rotating cropland across seasons to allow previously harvested land to replenish before it’s refarmed, can go a long way toward enhancing crop yields
Bananas, in particular, could benefit from looking to the past. Historically, there were thousands of banana species with all sorts of characteristics. Today, the “cavendish” variety accounts for 47% of all bananas produced. By planting and growing different types of bananas, farmers may be able to find varieties that are resistant to some of the diseases plaguing their trees.