Bananas at risk in India

While the origin of the banana lies elsewhere, India was an ‘early adaptor’ and is now home to many varieties of bananas. Ancient Buddhist texts from around 600 BC mention the banana for the first time and describe it as a highly nutritive food. These texts describe a beverage derived from banana which the Buddhist monks were allowed to drink. Travelogues of 327 BC mention that the Alexander the Great discovered the banana when he campaigned deep into the valleys of northern India. In the year 200 AD, China had an organized system of banana plantations, but at that period in the history of China, everything and everybody was highly organized.

The banana is an important crop for subsistence farmers and ensures a secure and year-round supply of food or income. It supports livelihood of millions of people with a total annual production of some 17 million tonnes. Banana contributes 37% to total fruit production and account for 2.8 percent of India’s agricultural GDP.
Although India grows at least 670 different varieties, the variety of banana that is grown the most is the Cavendish. These bananas are mostly produced on a small scale and the large increase in production is the result of ever more dense planting, the use of tissue-cultured seedlings and drip irrigation.

But all this is at risk because of the spread of the Panama Disease. The Panama disease is already found in all banana-producing regions of India, especially in north eastern region. To counter the disease, heavy usage of fungicides is required, something the relatively poor smallholders cannot afford. That means that millions of people are at risk of losing their livelihood and may start to suffer from extreme poverty and malnutrition.

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