ONCE you become accustomed to gas at $4 a gallon, brace yourself for the next shocking retail threshold: bananas reaching $1 a pound. At that price, Americans may stop thinking of bananas as a cheap staple, and then a strategy that has served the big banana companies for more than a century - enabling them to turn an exotic, tropical fruit into an everyday favorite - will begin to unravel.
The immediate reasons for the price increase are the rising cost of oil and reduced supply caused by floods in Ecuador, the world's biggest banana exporter. But something larger is going on that will affect prices for years to come.
The banana is a living organism. It can get sick, and since bananas all
come from the same gene pool, a virulent enough malady could wipe out
the world’s commercial banana crop in a matter of years.
Over the past decade, however, a new, more virulent strain of Panama
disease has begun to spread across the world, and this time the
Cavendish banana is not immune. The fungus is expected to reach Latin America
in 5 to 10 years, maybe 20. The big banana companies have been slow to
finance efforts to find either a cure for the fungus or a banana that
resists it. Nor has enough been done to aid efforts to diversify the
world’s banana crop by preserving little-known varieties of the fruit
that grow in Africa and Asia.