In the mid 1900s, the most popular banana in the world—a sweet, creamy variety called Gros Michel grown in Latin America—all but disappeared from the planet. At the time, it was the only banana in the world that could be exported. But a fungus, known as Panama Disease, which first appeared in Australia in the late 1800s, changed that after jumping continents. The disease debilitated the plants that bore the fruit. The damage was so great and swift that in a matter of only a few decades the Gros Michel nearly went extinct.
Now, half a century later, a new strain of the disease is threatening the existence of the Cavendish, the banana that replaced the Gros Michel as the world’s top banana export, representing 99 percent of the market, along with a number of banana varieties produced and eaten locally around the world.