Sliced on your morning cereal, split under scoops of ice cream or eaten right out of the peel, bananas are one of the most-consumed fruits in the world. But banana plants are highly vulnerable to fungal diseases, putting those bright-yellow bunches at risk every year. Finding new and better ways to protect bananas is vital for farmers and everyone who enjoys this fruit.
Cultivation of bananas dates all the way back to 5,000 B.C. in Papua New Guinea.1 Historians think bananas may have been one of the very first foods domesticated by humans.2 In 327 B.C., bananas went international, when Alexander the Great brought them to Europe.1 These early varieties weren’t the sweet ones most of us are used to today and they had a lot of seeds. Over time, bananas were cultivated into forms that were more palatable and seed-free. With advances in shipping, storage and cultivation, bananas were introduced to the world more broadly in the 1800s. Americans fell in love with them at the 1876 World’s Fair in Philadelphia.1 Today, in the U.S. and the UK, people consume around 80 bananas per person per year.3-4
There are hundreds of banana varieties grown around the world, and many serve as an important dietary staple.2 These types are mostly grown for domestic consumption. When it comes to the global banana trade, the Cavendish variety dominates and is the one most of us pick up weekly at the grocery store. Cavendish bananas make up 47% of the bananas grown worldwide, with 55 million metric tons produced each year.4 Bananas are considered the fourth most valuable food commodity, after rice, wheat and milk. Filled with carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and potassium,2 bananas pack a lot of valuable nutrition in a portable, self-contained package.
The tasty Cavendish, however, is particularly vulnerable to fungal diseases. Because they don’t produce seeds, it’s difficult to breed Cavendish bananas for resistance traits. This means farmers have to rely on fungicides to help keep banana crops healthy to meet world demand.2
The banana variety most commonly found in the supermarket is the Cavendish, which has a sweet taste and is seedless. Cavendish bananas are also highly vulnerable to the fungal disease black Sigatoka.
One of the most important fungal diseases in banana is black Sigatoka, which was first recognized in the 1960s, and has spread rapidly in major banana-producing areas of Central and South America. The disease flourishes in high moisture conditions, and spores can be carried by wind and rain or irrigation water.2 Changes in the climate have made conditions in banana-producing regions even more ideal for the development and spread of the disease.5
Black Sigatoka attacks banana leaves, causing them to die early, and affecting yield, ripening and the weight of banana bunches.6 The disease can result in yield losses of 50% or more and causes premature ripening, which can lead to rot during shipment and seriously impacts export opportunities.2,7
Black Sigatoka is a fungal disease that attacks the leaves of banana plants, disrupting photosynthesis. It can affect yield and cause premature fruit ripening.
Fungicides provide the most effective control of black Sigatoka, but the disease has the potential to develop resistance rapidly. In recent years, growers have had to apply more fungicides and do so more often. The cost can be substantial, adding cost for farmers and raising the price of bananas for consumers.2
To combat resistance and the need to use higher rates of fungicide products, it’s important for growers to have new and different options to treat black Sigatoka. This is one reason why the introduction of Inatreq™ active has been so useful to banana farmers. This fungicide active ingredient offers the first new site of action against black Sigatoka in banana in more than 15 years. Inatreq is always used in combination with other fungicide active ingredients in a program approach, to further limit the chances of developing resistance and keep more fungicides working against this costly disease for the longer term.
Inatreq provides protection against this key disease and, critically, provides a new tool for the grower to manage resistance development. It also rapidly degrades into natural components in the environment and is applied at very low use rates. These characteristics mean farmers, regulators and consumers don’t need to worry about residue on bananas treated with Inatreq when it is used according to the label.
Bananas were once exotic and rare. Today, they’re everywhere—a convenient, affordable and delicious source of nutrition that most of us take for granted. Farmers in banana-growing regions are working hard to ensure they stay that way. With advanced fungicide options like Inatreq, farmers are protecting the bananas we’ve come to enjoy over the past two centuries, to make sure they will continue to show up in our fruit bowls for decades to come.
1 The Surprising History of Bananas in Under 2 Minutes, (National Geographic, 2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpAHPXNhAwk.
2 Randy Ploetz, “Black Sigatoka of Banana: The Most Important Disease of a Most Important Fruit”(The American Phytopathological Society), accessed November 11, 2022, https://www.apsnet.org/edcenter/apsnetfeatures/Pages/BlackSigatoka.aspx.
3 Andrew Greiner, “This Study Is Bananas,” (YouGov, September 18, 2019), https://today.yougov.com/topics/consumer/articles-reports/2019/09/18/study-bananas.
4 Duncan Leatherdale, “The Imminent Death of the Cavendish Banana and Why It Affects Us All,”BBC News (BBC, January 24, 2016), https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-35131751.
5 Daniel P. Bebber, “Climate Change Effects on Black Sigatoka Disease of Banana,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (The Royal Society, May 6, 2019), https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2018.0269.
6 Helen Tsatsia and Grahame Jackson, “Banana Black Sigatoka (002),” Pacific Pests & Pathogens -Full Size Fact Sheets (Lucid Central), accessed November 11, 2022, https://apps.lucidcentral.org/ppp/text/web_full/entities/banana_black_sigatoka_002.htm.
7 Douglas H. Marín et al., “Black Sigatoka: An Increasing Threat to Banana Cultivation,” Plant Disease 87, no. 3 (March 2003): pp. 208-222, https://doi.org/10.1094/pdis.2003.87.3.208.