History Repeats Itself: Panama Disease and the World Banana Economy

Authors: John A Kirchner*, California State University, Los Angeles
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Human-Environment Geography, Economic Geography
Keywords: Diffusion, Panama Disease, Gros Michel Banana, Cavendish Banana, Panama Disease Tropical Race 4
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The outbreak of Panama Disease in the 1890s marked the beginning of instability linked to a leaf-wilt (Fusarium Oxysporum … cubense), a vascular disease fatal to the then most popular export banana, the Gros Michel. Once affected, fields were abandoned, forcing growers to seek new land, thus creating a kind of “shifting cultivation” on a massive scale. From 1900 to the early 1960s, the largest firm, United Fruit Company, lost production on some 925,000 acres. The introduction of disease resistant Cavendish bananas in the 1960s saved the industry. That said, a crisis of even greater dimensions has emerged in Asia and Southeast Asia, with Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 attacking Cavendish and other bananas, including plantains. This paper reviews past experience in the New World, including a spatial overview of production relocation due to the earlier form of Panama disease, and then focuses on the global implications of the new disease outbreak. Some 85% of world banana production is destined for local markets or subsidence consumption, and only 15% for export. This crisis of cloned monoculture has already destroyed Cavendish production in Taiwan, and is seriously impacting the Philippines, forcing some importing nations (like Japan) to supplement supplies from as yet unaffected New World sources. Tropical Race 4 has reached Australia, Africa, the Indian subcontinent, and the Middle East. The earlier Panama Disease outbreak has been compared to the 19th Century potato blight in terms of impact; absent another cure from science, Tropical race 4 will have even greater consequences.

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