PANAMA DISEASE - the malady that threatens much of the world's banana crop, and whose advance is the subject of my book - see this fact sheet put out by the Austrailian government, or read this (detailed) article on the fungal blight - was thought to be well-managed, if not stopped cold, in northwest Australia, one of the world's primary commercial banana growing regions. Quarantine measures put in place by local banana growers and agricultural officials were thought to have been both effective - and a model for stopping the disease.
But Panama Disease is impossible to stop once it jumps whatever barriers are erected against it, no matter how strong or well-thought out. That nightmare scenario is now occuring.
That is exactly what is happening right now in Australia. On October 16, 2007, the Australian Broadcasting Company reported the rapid spread of the blight across plantation that had - as recently as a year ago - been disease free. At least one major banana company is on the verge of going out of business.
Under the headline "Disease Ravaging NT banana crop" (NT stands for
"Northern Territories), reporter Anne Barker writes that the "industry, which had such bright
now itself facing collapse from the exotic Panama Disease." Though
outward appearances are ones of health, the industry is in fact "on its
knees," the report continues. Later in the story, an agricultural
official says that there's no need for alarm: "We understand that there
is probably three or four that are immune to
the disease and to see if we can increase the industry within the
Northern Territory." The official goes on to describe the appearance of
the blight as a "hiccup."
Panama Disease has a long history of attacking banana crops. It has been doing so for over a century. At least two things always mark its appearance: total destruction - and total denial. The major banana companies failed to recognize the seriousness of the malady throughout the early part of the 20th century. So are officials in countries being hit by the blight now. To make it absolutely clear: there is no cure for Panama Disease. There are no resistant varieties capable of replacing the fruit we grow and consume today.
ADDENDUM AND PURE SPECULATION: the banana industry in Australia was hit by a cyclone less than two years ago. Panama Disease is known to be spread through water and soil. Could it be - as might be inferred from this document produced for banana farmers in Australia - that the storm struck a devastating delayed blow?buy the book