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#378978 - 06/03/10 09:47 AM The Sexless Life of the Banana
Marty Offline

The brightly coloured banana with its nutritious, sweet, nourishing flesh and excellent source of carbohydrates loved by most living creatures young and old appears to be a miracle of nature and is a vital part of our diets. Today the banana comes in all sizes, easy to peel and is dispatched all over the world while it’s leaves can be used for a number of purposes. However, the banana that has provided substance to living creatures for centuries is a freak of nature….. The banana is ‘sexless’.

The pairing of two wild growing mismatched plant species in South Asia, led to the final birth of the hybrid banana we enjoy today. Thousands of years ago, early experiments showed that some of the results from cross pollinated the inedible fruit plants produced a tasty seedless bright yellow fruit in an unusual and amusing shape.

Fortunately, agriculturalists found they could cultivate the plant from suckering shoots and cuttings taken from the underground stem. The plant produced this way, remains sterile but can be widely propagated with help. Traders carried the fruit to other countries, sparing the tasty fruit from an otherwise evolutionary dead end.

The banana and its close relative the plantain grow in a number of different varieties with the most popular being the shapely sweet tasting dessert banana, ‘the Cavendish’ which is found in all supermarkets and milkshakes. The ‘Cavendish’ is exported all over the world on an industrial scale from commercial plantations in the tropics, with every one genetically identical, producing the same flavour, colour and shape.

Numerous varieties of banana and plantain are cultivated for local consumption in Asia and Africa, but none has the same world wide demand as the ‘Cavendish’. Bananas are prone to diseases and crop consuming insects and a severe outbreak could easily spread, destroying the whole genetic plantations and causing mass starvation in tropical regions.

Until the mid twentieth century, most bananas supplied to the developed world belong to the ‘Gros Michel’ cultivar were sweet and had a longer shelf life, making them more suitable for export, but from the early part of the century the large plantations of ‘Big Mike’ proved to be seriously fertile for a fungal affliction known as ‘Panama Disease’ which affected the crops of bananas and turned them into rotting piles of vegetation.

Big Mike found them selves in a race against time to reproduce and establish new crops in disease free areas of the rainforest with many producers on the edge of bankruptcy, but in the 1950’s the Vietnamese Cavendish appeared. By the 1960’s the distinct taste of Big Mike was extinct, lost to the public with the new Cavendish being given the thumbs up by the public.

In the 1070’s a disease called the Black Sigatoka was given vigorous doses of pesticides, but a new strain of the Panama disease has been wiping out the banana including the previously resistant Cavendish in Asia. It has not yet hit commercial planters in Southeast Africa, though it is believed to be only a matter time.

Few approaches to improving diseases have been provided. Although banana plants are cloned, occasionally they can be encouraged to produce seeds through hand pollination, but only one fruit in three will produce seeds and of these three, only one will have the correct chromosomes to allow germination. The seeds are extracted by straining tons of bananas through fine meshes.

Hopes for the Cavendish’s survival may lie in the form of genetic modification. The world center on banana research in Belgium has become skilled in using DNA transfer in order to produce disease resistant genes in a bid to develop a healthier disease resistant banana and hopefully overcome the sexual inadequacies.

Sarah Goldman

#416120 - 09/13/11 02:30 PM Re: The Sexless Life of the Banana [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
What's missing from Belize bananas?
Lan Sluder


Belize bananas have no seeds.

Of course, that's true with all Cavendish bananas grown anywhere in the world. All Cavendish bananas, the main commercial type grown and sold worldwide now, are essentially clones of each other. They can't reproduce on their own and require human assistance.

Every commercially sold banana (bananas are herbs, by the way, and the fruit is actually a giant berry) in the world is the same, like all its identical twins.

Unfortunately, that means that what makes one banana sick makes all bananas sick. The fungus blight raging in Asia now, killing bananas will sooner or later ravage all the banana plantations in Central America. Including Belize.

#416572 - 09/19/11 08:48 AM Re: The Sexless Life of the Banana [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
Strange Fruit: Facts about Belize Bananas
By Lan Sluder

• Unlike other fruit, where variety is a virtue, bananas grown commercially for export are nearly all of one type. All Belize bananas, like those grown elsewhere for export, are Cavendish, a variety originally from China – 99% of production for export is Cavendish, particularly the Grand Naine (Big Dwarf) cultivar. The typical Cavendish plant produces around 200 bananas a year and lives for three or four years.

• Until the 1960s, Gros Michel was the variety grown in Belize and nearly everywhere else. The Michel is a creamier, tastier, larger and less fragile variety than Cavendish. Its great weakness is its susceptibility to Panama disease, a fungal disease that wiped out banana plantations all over the Caribbean and Central and northern South America, including Belize, and also to Black Sigatoka disease. The last Gros Michel was shipped to the U.S. in 1965.

• Banana production began in Belize (then British Honduras) in the late 19th century, but the industry was nearly put out of business in the 1920s and 1930s due to Panama disease and Cercospora leaf blight. The citrus industry in Stann Creek District grew out of the problems of the banana industry in Belize.

• A new and more virulent version of the Panama disease, now raging in Asia and Africa, is expected to reach Belize and Central American within the next 10 years. If and when it does, it could at least temporarily wipe out the banana industry in Belize again.

• A few individuals literally created the modern banana industry in Central America from scratch. Until the late 19th century, bananas were only luxury items in the United States and Europe. Bananas were mostly grown in the Caribbean, especially Jamaica. But land there was limited. Central America was perfect for banana production, but few bananas (except plantains) were grown there. Minor Keith, a Brooklyn-born Texas rancher who built the San José-Limon railroad in Costa Rica, came to own hundreds of thousands of acres of land in Costa Rica and single-handedly developed the Costa Rican banana industry. He began growing bananas, and exporting them to the U.S. through New Orleans. Soon he expanded his banana plantations to Panama and Colombia. A financial setback required Keith to merge with Andrew Preston’s Boston Fruit Company. The result was the United Fruit Company. While it competed with Standard Fruit, which was founded in New Orleans, Fyffes and other fruit companies, United Fruit quickly came to dominate banana production in much of Central America and northern South America.

• United Fruit and Standard Fruit made the banana, virtually unknown in the U.S. until after the Civil War, the number one selling fruit in America and most of the rest of the developed world. It cost less, and still costs less, than temperate-climate fruits like apples that are grown much closer to their markets.

• United Fruit and Standard Fruit achieved industry dominance using a formula that hasn’t changed for over 100 years: Produce a single type of banana on a large scale, control international transportation and distribution, and keep labor and other costs low. Today, United Fruit is called Chiquita Brands International; Standard Fruit is now Dole Food Company. After Chiquita lost its corporate way and went through a bankruptcy, Dole became the world’s leading banana company.

• Fyffes, originally an English company and a subsidiary of United Fruit, and now an Irish company, has dominated banana exports from Belize since United Fruit abandoned production in British Honduras in the 1920s and 30s due to Panama disease. Fyffes ships bananas to Europe.

• Belize escaped the fate of many other Central and northern South American countries – military invasions by the U.S. to support United Fruit and Standard Fruit interests and to put down unionization efforts by banana workers. U.S. military invasions took place in Honduras, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and elsewhere, and most infamously in Guatemala in 1954, when the CIA and United Fruit removed the elected president, leading to decades of oligarchic and military iron fist rule, eventually resulting in the death of some 100,000 Maya.

• Belize banana plants are not trees or shrubs but herbs, and the fruit are giant berries.

• Some Biblical scholars believe the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was the banana, not the apple.

• Belize bananas have no seeds – that’s true of bananas grown commercially anywhere in the world. All commercially exported bananas are essentially clones of each other.

• Belize bananas, like all Cavendish bananas, remain green until picked, when they begin to ripen. Ripening takes about seven days, unless artificially delayed.

• Belize’s first and only railroad line, the Stann Creek Railway, was built during 1911-1914 to transport bananas between United Fruit Co.’s Middlesex Estate and Stann Creek Town (now Dangriga). It operated until 1937.

• Belize today has over 6,000 acres in banana production, mainly in Stann Creek and Toledo districts. This compares with around 44,000 acres in orange and grapefruit production.

• The banana split was invented in 1904, either in Ohio or Pennsylvania (different towns claim to have been the place where it was invented.)

• Belize exported 4.5 million 40-pound boxes, or around 90 tons, of bananas in 2010, with a value of US$35 million, primarily to the European Union. By contrast, Ecuador exports about 3,500,000 tons. In most years, bananas are the third-largest agricultural export from Belize, after citrus juice and sugar.

• Bananas originated in Asia. Wild bananas are native to much of the Indian subcontinent and South Asia, and the first bananas may have been domesticated in Papua New Guinea or possibly Malaysia.

• India is the world’s largest producer of bananas, and it has the largest number of varieties – over 670 – but nearly all production in India is for domestic consumption, not export.

• The term “banana republic” was coined by O. Henry (who is buried in Asheville, NC) in 1905.

• A pesticide called Bordeaux mixture to control Sigatoka disease was the first chemical fungicide widely used in Central America. It was sprayed on bananas at the rate of 250 gallons per acre 20 to 30 times a year. It worked, but unfortunately it had a side effect: Banana workers turned blue, lost their sense of smell, and many died.

• So far there are no GMO bananas, and it has been difficult for scientists to field test genetically altered bananas that might be resistant to Panama disease and other maladies. Only Uganda has permitted testing of GMO bananas. Yet bananas are a low-risk GMO crop, since bananas are sterile. Many banana specialists claim that a better engineered banana is sorely needed, especially in Africa, where bananas are a major food crop but local banana production has declined by 60% due to Panama disease and other banana diseases.

• Organically grown bananas, mostly grown by Dole in Ecuador, are becoming popular with consumers – they look just like conventionally grown bananas and only cost a little more. It’s unlikely that Belize will ever grow organic bananas, because in order to avoid Black Sigatoka and other diseases they have to be grown at higher elevations.

Sources: Banana, The Fate of the Fruit That the Changed the World by Dan Koeppel, and other research on the banana.

#416750 - 09/21/11 10:16 AM Re: The Sexless Life of the Banana [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
no room for a mention of Smedley Butler?

Smedley Darlington Butler (July 30, 1881 – June 21, 1940), nicknamed "The Fighting Quaker" and "Old Gimlet Eye", was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps, and at the time of his death the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. During his 34-year career as a Marine, he participated in military actions in the Philippines, China, in Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars.


In 1935 Smedley Butler wrote the exposé War Is a Racket, a trenchant condemnation of the profit motive behind warfare. His views on the subject are summarized in the following passage from a 1935 issue of the socialist magazine Common Sense:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.



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