As with many other human crops, bananas are under attack. In the rainforest different species of tree are spread throughout the forest- this is because if there are several trees of the same species together, then the fungus or other pests that specialise in that tree do particularly well and kill off those trees.
Humans do not follow this pattern as we want to create lots of food in a small area, but this means we have to fight of these natural pests and fungi to stop us losing whole plantations. The pest known as ‘fusarium wilt’ had not yet spread to South America, which produces the majority of the world’s bananas. A single variety of banana provides 99.9% of the world’s bananas, which replaced a far nicer varient in the 50s after it was hit by pests.
This time a Norwegian biotech firm is to do gene editing, to make it more hardy to this pest. However they believe that the new plant will be less susceptible to all fungi, thereby hugely reducing the amount of pesticides farmers need to use – which is brilliant news for the wider environment. They will have a higher yield, thereby making more food on the land they have. This both means higher income for farmers and less demand for land, hopefully meaning a slower deforestation rate.
There is hope, however before the plants arrive that are resistant it is hard to convince poor farmers to destroy their trees, which makes eradicating the pests extremely hard.