ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about Tropical Race Four, a soil-borne fungus threatening Cavendish banana cultivation. More than a thousand kinds of banana can be found worldwide, but a variety called Cavendish, which a nineteenth-century British explorer happened upon in a household garden in southern China, represents ninety-nine per cent of the banana export market.
The vast majority of banana varieties are not viable for international trade: their bunches are too small, or their skin is too thin, or their pulp is too bland. Although Cavendishes need pampering, they are the only variety that provides farmers with a high yield of palatable fruit that can endure overseas trips without ripening too quickly or bruising too easily.
The Cavendish, which is rich in Vitamins B6 and C, has high levels of potassium, magnesium, and fibre; it is also cheap—about sixty cents a pound. In 2008, Americans ate 7.6 billion pounds of Cavendish bananas,...MORE