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Norwich charity says virus is killing masses of bananas

PUBLISHED: 07:00 28 January 2016 | UPDATED: 09:46 28 January 2016

Paul Lievens, communications officer at Banana Link in Norwich, with volunteers, Caroline Holo, left, and Christine Runnalls, who are both UEA masters students in international development. Banana Link is concerned about the impact of Panama disease in bananas, and the livelihoods of plantation workers and small farmers. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Paul Lievens, communications officer at Banana Link in Norwich, with volunteers, Caroline Holo, left, and Christine Runnalls, who are both UEA masters students in international development. Banana Link is concerned about the impact of Panama disease in bananas, and the livelihoods of plantation workers and small farmers. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2016

A Norwich charity which aims to ensure bananas are fairly traded is echoing warnings that a virus is spreading across the globe, threatening banana farms.

File photo dated 12/11/08 of some  bananas as following warnings to banana growers of a soil-borne fungal disease spreading through export plantations from Asia to Africa, one of the world's leading banana scientists has said people should start testing other varieties of bananas. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday April 15, 2014. Rony Swennen, who manages the World Banana Collection in Belgium for Biodiversity International, made the comments after the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that the disease, Fusarium Wilt TR4, has the potential to spread to Latin American banana plantations. Bananas are the world's eighth most important crop and the fourth most important food crop in poor nations, the UN says. The agency has said the disease has caused major damage in south-east Asia over the past 20 years and has recently been found in Mozambique and Jordan. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Bananas. Photo credit should read: Clive Gee/PA WireFile photo dated 12/11/08 of some bananas as following warnings to banana growers of a soil-borne fungal disease spreading through export plantations from Asia to Africa, one of the world's leading banana scientists has said people should start testing other varieties of bananas. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday April 15, 2014. Rony Swennen, who manages the World Banana Collection in Belgium for Biodiversity International, made the comments after the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that the disease, Fusarium Wilt TR4, has the potential to spread to Latin American banana plantations. Bananas are the world's eighth most important crop and the fourth most important food crop in poor nations, the UN says. The agency has said the disease has caused major damage in south-east Asia over the past 20 years and has recently been found in Mozambique and Jordan. See PA story ENVIRONMENT Bananas. Photo credit should read: Clive Gee/PA Wire

The Panama disease kills the banana plant and a new strain has been jumping from continent to continent.

Wiping out plantations in East Asia, Mozambique, the Middle East and recently travelling to Australia, there is a fear that it could move to the Americas and Caribbean where the majority of the world’s bananas are grown.

There is currently no cure for the diseases and it is affecting the Cavendish banana - the type of the fruit which 99pc of the world enjoys.

BananaLink is a Norwich-based charity which helps ensure workers receive decent wages, have good conditions of work and tries to reduce the environmental impact of growing the fruit.

Interesting banana facts

There are around 1,000 different types of banana plants, but most are unplantable

Nearly all of the Cavendish bananas – the most popular type of the fruit – are clones as they originate from a single plant

Bananas are more radioactive than other fruit, as they contain a lot of potassium

Fifty-one per cent of bananas are eaten by people for breakfast in their own homes

A man once ate 81 bananas in half an hour in India

Alistair Smith, the St George’s Street charity’s international co-ordinator, said: “No one knows how it’s travelling, but it would wipe out bananas as we know it - no one knows how to stop it killing the plants. It could be this year it jumps to the Americas, it could be in five years’ time, but we need to look at other varieties and we don’t believe genetically modified bananas are the answer.

“It is the most popular fruit and people would clearly miss it. Every woman man and child consumes the equivalent of a full case of bananas every year - including babies. The big issue is the millions of people whose livelihoods depend on bananas, for them there is no short term solution.”

Mr Smith added that some plantations in the Philippines have already gone out of business, and there are very few other ways for the people who worked there to make money.

He said: “In the UK we have extremely low prices, unsustainable low prices, there is not enough to go around and all along the chain people are squeezed.”

Unless there is a suitable alternative or a cure for the virus, he believes it could be the end of the banana as we know it.

- If you have a news story, email jemma.walker@archant.co.uk

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