The variety that made banana the ‘world’s favourite fruit’ was Gros Michel, but it was knocked out as a commercial crop in the 1950s and 1960s by Panama disease, specifically a form that we now call ‘Foc Race 1’. The banana that took its place was Cavendish, a variety found to be resistant to that form of Panama disease and subsequently distributed around the world. It currently dominates the global trade in bananas. But now the Cavendish banana has met its nemesis in the form of Tropical Race 4 of Panama disease—Foc-TR4. The new form of the disease has just about wiped out commercial Cavendish production in Malaysia and Indonesia (despite the best efforts of ACIAR’s previous Panama disease project in Indonesia), and this year there have been outbreaks, for the first time, in Africa and the Middle East.
A banana plantation devastated by Panama disease (Tropical Race 4). Photo: Richard Markham/ACIAR