DOle Banana Project

(September 19, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Developments regarding the above have received several adverse responses in the press. Notable among them, which aptly summarise the indignation caused, are by Saradha Mohan Kumar in “The Sunday Times” of 22 August, quoting Mr Ravindra Kariyawasam, National Coordinator of the Centre for Environmental Studies, and the article by Tisaranee Gunasekera in the “Sunday Leader” of 11 September as also several in “The Island”.

It is impossible to deny the legitimacy of their concerns. The grounds of unwarranted secrecy, (in fact, many became aware when neatly presented bananas began to appear on Supermarket shelves), infringement of legal requirements, side-stepping of relevant Institutions , violation of sanctuaries, virgin forests and temple lands are certainly dangerous and irresponsible actions. 

A look at the recent history of commercial banana cultivation would be instructive.A variety of banana suitable for the export trade must have certain recognised attributes. Prior to the 1960’s, the variety of choice on almost all commercial plantations was one called Gros Michel. The major centres of production were the Central and South American, South East Asian and Northern Australian regions. Bananas however grow in a large number of Tropical countries but mainly satisfy important local needs (as in Sri Lanka) Particularly since the early 1960’s, plantations in South East Asia were devastated by a disease called “Panama Disease” or “Fusarium Wilt”.

It is caused by a fungus Fusarium oxysporum ssp Cubense which invades the roots and rapidly causes death of the plant and because of its ready dissemination through infected suckers, contaminated implements and irrigation water, dramatically destroyed entire plantations. It was not amenable to control and the feasible choices were to use resistant cultivars or move to uninfected areas. Fortunately, at this time, a resistant cultivar, called Cavendish, with fruit qualities similar to the susceptible one, was available as a swift replacement. Unfortunately, the comfort was short-lived, the fungus developing a new fungal strain (called Tropical Race 4) which is highly infective. It has already destroyed plantations in Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia) and has made its appearance in Northern Australia. Although not yet into South and Central America, this is considered only as a matter of time. This has led the large players in the banana trade, to whom the crop is of enormous importance, to look for new areas of cultivation as a suitable resistant variety is not available this time round.

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