Black Sigatoka Threatens World Banana Production and Prices

Spend Matters welcomes a guest post from Corrina Savage of Mintec.

Bananas are the fresh fruit snack of choice across the world, in particular the US. As the largest banana importer, the US imports nearly 4 million tons a year (based on a five-year average). Bananas are the largest US food import, above wheat, sugar, and coffee. And what with the announcement of the Fyffe’s and Chiquita merger and “Fairtrade Fortnight” just ending on March 9, they’re certainly topical.

oh my gosh can i have a bite of your banana

Of the bananas exported globally, 95 percent are of the Cavendish variety. This is due to Cavendish bananas’ very good shelf life, making them easier to transport - they arrive at their destination fresh and still green. Out of the 18m tons of bananas exported each year, Ecuador is the largest exporter and is responsible for 6m tons. The second largest exporter is Colombia with 2m tons per year.

Demand is the main cost driver for bananas. It is the most exported fruit and our increasing demand for bananas has been rapid over the last few years:

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However, currently there is growing concern about a reduction in global banana production due to the Black Sigatoka disease, a fungal leaf spot disease which affects the banana plant. Plants with this disease can have a greatly reduced yield due to early ripening; in some cases the yield is up to 50% lower. Disease prevention and treatment is costly and requires persistence. The disease can spread either through air or water. It spreads quickly and thrives in the hot and humid climates where bananas grow.

The disease was first reported in 1963 in Fiji and reached South America and the Caribbean Islands in 1991. Since then, the disease moved rapidly throughout the globe, thought to be transported by imports. The effect of the disease has significantly slowed global production growth.

Governments in the producing countries stepped in and with their help the loss in yield had been curbed. In the last few years however, production has fallen, causing concerns regarding resistance.

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Even with good disease management, the significant increase in demand is outstripping the global production of bananas. There is also a consumer push at the moment for fair trade and organic bananas. Organic bananas cannot have the fungicide used on them and therefore the reduced yield causes a large price difference between these and non-organic.

So if demand continues to increase and the disease firefighting keeps production low, bananas may face a worrisome future.

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First Voice

  1. kris colby:

    This is going to wreak havoc with my teenager feeding program…

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