Cyclone Warning Class III over bananas

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A recent article which was published in The Guardian on Monday 18th of June 2018 caused my high blood pressure to climb higher the ladder. The article was co-signed by Hannah Summers (freelance writer who covers social affairs and investigations) and Charles Pensulo (freelance Malawi’s writer of Reuters) for Global Development which is supported by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (why does the Prime Minister not consider awarding them Honorary Citizens of the Republic of Mauritius which in itself is worthier that the murky business of passport!) which starts with the shivering paragraph:

“A British company has joined the race to develop a banana variety resistant to diseases and climatic changes that threaten to disrupt the availability of the country’s favourite fruit – or even kill it off altogether”.

No need that “she who must be obeyed” rightly seized my I-pad from me. At the time I was reading The Guardian’s article I was already an in-patient at the ICU Candos.

The global supply chain of bananas is threatened by a fungus that has been attacking plantations in Australia – South East Asia, parts of Africa and Middle East. The probability of it spreading to Latin America where the majority of bananas are exported to Northern America and Europe is very high. The fungus is known as “Fusarium wilt”. A single heap of contaminated dirt is enough to spread it like wildfire. Dan Koeppel, author of the book Panama: The fate of the fruit that changed the world, wrote that “the fungus can be transported by wind, cars, water creating an infection wherever it goes”.

There are different types of bananas, but a variety of banana known as the “Cavendish” accounts for 99.9% of bananas traded globally. India which is the largest producer of bananas with China lagging behind had about 600 varieties but over the past two decades the Cavendish has hegemonized many of them. And despite Rene Dumont’s warning that when you replaced a varied multicultural with a monoculture, you are in a trouble if a disease happens… Nature comes back and bites you.

The Cavendish is also known as the “hotel banana”. The Cavendish accounts for 41% of all bananas grown worldwide. According to Food and Agriculture Organization, banana is the world most exported fresh fruit. And Ecuador is the world’s largest exporter. In our continent Africa’s bananas (of course including plantains) are critical for food security and income generating for millions of people.

What will happen to our banana – plants?

If nothing is done, bananas will disappear from the face of the globe.

We will witness the blackening of the banana leaves.

The bananas will become dark and not edible…. Too pessimistic! Hope I am utterly wrong. We all will go bananas!

I have lived for a quarter of century in Stanley which has all the characteristics of a village. Before cyclone Gervaise in February 1975 from the top of Corps de Garde mountain, one can see a green carpet with very few concrete buildings. In nearly every yard there were banana plants, brede mouroum, papaya trees and several other fruit trees. So did the yard where I was living with my maternal grandmother and uncles after the death of my father.

I still remember the time when the cluster of green bananas or bunch of green bananas were cut to be stored in gunny bags inside a dark wooden shed.

I was gently warned together with my late cousin Rouben Irlen by my maternal grandmother not to eat any of the bananas as the first tiers (hands) has to be offered to the plethora of Hindu Gods. Mischievously, I asked the Gods for forgiveness and started to eat the bananas which have turned yellow while encouraging my cousins and all other neighbours of my age or a little wee older to ape me. In my little mind, full of mischief the Gods have already given me the green light as nobody seemed to be aware of my acts. I have received the God’s blessings. When my grandmother realised that several hands of bananas or fingers are missing, we were rebuked but again too gently for us to feel threatened by mere mortals. Eating a finger from a bunch of “banana zinzli” or “banana mamzel” is a heavenly temptation that I can’t resist. One must eat at least a hand of banana zinzli. Who does not know the appetite of a teenager who is hyperactive?

The only bananas that escaped my utter greed were the “banane care”, not to be confused with “plantains”. At the Kistnen Mestry Benevolent Society where is located very near St Anne’s church and the Kalimaye the Draupadee Amen Kovil, I was witnessing every Friday the spotless hands of yellow bananas together with coconuts on copper coloured platters which are offerings for all the saints of the Hindu pantheon.

My mantra every Friday was to pray for the prayers to be over very quickly for me to get a taste of the yellow and creamy bananas. I was a bit pampered by every devotees for unknown reasons but what I do know everybody was offering me the best of bananas. In my boundless imagination eating bananas will definitely make me strong as Hanuman. I will jump in the sky, fly like aeroplanes and smash armies of malevolent enemies. Hulk nor Superman did not exist at that time.

While I grew up I became more politically conscious of “bananas”.

A corporation called United Fruit (Chile of late President Allende learnt how that corporation can kill for big profits) took one type of bananas the “Gros Michel”… out of the jungles around the world and decided to produce it on vast plantations. Dan Koeppel explains in his book the steps diabolically used by United Fruit:

(i) Find a poor country;

(ii) Weaken through any means the country;

(iii) Have a puppet dictator or government that will serve the interests of United States or United Fruit;

(iv) If the dictator is not agreeable, topple it and replace it with a spineless one;

(v) Smash and burn down its rainforests to create space for banana plantations;

(vi) Build banana plantation around only one variety to maximise profits;

(vii) Make the villagers become dependent on United Fruits;

(viii) Crush all left-wing parties or murder its leaders;

(ix) Don’t allow any form of trade unionism even in its mildest forms;

(x) If bananas are not yielding or are dying dump/test agrochemicals on them to see if they work… test… and don’t give a damn if results are negative;

(xi) If no positive results move on to the next country. Have you ever heard of the banana magnate Samuel Zemurray? No ! If yes, I am a happy man. Samuel Zemurray founded the C uyamel – fruit company and later became head of United Fruit Company through tricks, deceptions and with the help of CIA. Samuel Zemurray decided in 1911 to seize the country of Honduras and transform it into a private plantation country. He built up a team of mercenaries of high calibre like Guy “machine gun Maloney” to invade Honduras with the blessings of USA and installed a puppet as President. Bonilla is the name of the puppet. Hence the term Banana Republic…

All ultra-liberal governments don’t want to subject corporations to tight regulations.

Corporations don’t give a damn about environment. They want to maximise short term profits. However the United Fruit’s scientists warned against building a gigantic monoculture. The rationale is that if every banana is from one homogeneous species, a fungus affecting the chain wherever in the world will spread like wildfire… In the 1960s the product of United Fruit “gros michel” the one true banana was dead because of the fungus.

The “gros michel” was luckily replaced by the Cavendish (interestingly it is Charles Telfair Irish botanist who sent from Mauritius the bananas to England where they were nurtured successfully) but in the 1980s the Cavendish too was infected by the same fungus. There is consensus among scientists that the fungus will eventually infect all Cavendish bananas everywhere…

The Panama Disease is back again …

Is there a glimmer of hope?

Can a genetically modified banana resist the Panama disease?

What genes will be used to modify bananas? Fish genes?

What will happen to our yellow bananas ? Must I pray again for bananas to turn yellow and banana leaves to turn green?

Are our authorities aware or are they blind to what is happening to our banana plants!

Oh banana!

Do you know that the banana plant is the largest herbaceous plant?

The Mauritian from South India have used bananas and its plants for a multiplicity of uses (non-exhaustive list):
(i) Food;

(ii) Beverages - soft (have you tried the banana mixed with milk offered to you on the after the procession of Cavadee is over) and alcoholic drinks;

(iii) Snacks;

(iv) Feed for cows and other animals (specially banana peels);

(v) Medicines (the rhizomes in Aryuvedic);

(vi) Textiles (same as Marijuana plant) to make garments (examples abound in South East Asia);

(vii) Banana peels as fertilizers – used till the 1970s in La Chaumière near Stanley where you have the oldest tradition of small vegetable plantations in Mauritius;

(viii) Banana flour used specially during the second World War in Mauritius for baby food;

(ix) Juices from its stems;

(x) As platters to serve food as banana leaves whet appetite;

(xi) Steamed leaves to pack food instead of plastic which is dangerous to health. Good food wrappers!

(xii) Banana flowers are edible and healthy. In Mauritius I know only few Tamil families that can prepare curry from same (the late Madee Valayden, the Mathuvurins, the Tirvengadums, the Coopens … ) but one must not use the small little yellow flowers as warned by my maternal grandmother;

(xiii) For Tamil festivals near the rivers the banana stems were used as floating devices for flowers, bananas, coconut and the different “vel piercings”.

(xiv) The root of bananas mixed with sea-salt that my paternal grandmother used to give me which I was ready to gargle to avoid going to the dentist of the local dispensary or sometimes to cure mouth ulcers. Placebo or scientific I don’t know but it did work;

(xv) The sap of banana plant has been used to cure bee sting and other causes of bleeding – still used by the Appasamy family in the south of our island;

(xvi) Skin and hair treatment still used nowadays in South India. The Keralites use banana plants juices to good effect. Less bald person in Kerala per head of population than in other parts of the world;

(xvii) Banana leaves and stems heal burns. Used as antibiotics and they don’t stick with burnt skin. TheTamilians were derided for the use of banana leaves by the British but recently the India’s Academic of Scientific and Innovative Research confirmed its great medical values in cases of burns. The studies were confirmed by Harvard University.

What is the scientific word for bananas? Musa Sapientum (after Musa Antonius who was the personal physician to Roman emperor Octavius Augustus and latter is credited for promoting the cultivation of that plant in Ancient Italy).

Musa Sapientum mean– fruit of the wise man. Will we be wise enough to prevent itseradication from the face of the blue Planet?

Why are banana plants placed everywhere when there are religious Hindu festivals?

Simply because they emit oxygen even after having been cut twenty four hours before!

Coconuts and bananas are the only two fruits that are considered as sacred. Why? All other fruits are partially tainted fruits meaning other fruits have seeds which have the capacity to produce…

Bananas are constantly thrown against black players or non-white players specially in football. Racist acts which are condemned by FIFA. In April 2014, Barcelona’s Dani Alves reacted to having a banana thrown at him by peeling it and then taking a bite …Eating a banana became a symbol of anti-racism in football. Good luck to researchers from Tropic Biosciences and Exeter University.

I do pray that the scientists from tropic biosciences from Norwich succeed very quickly in finding the “solution”. There is also the Bananex Project at Exeter University which is led by Dan Bebber. And Dan Bebber warned against the danger of tweaking a Cavendish clone to make it become disease resistant as there is nothing stopping the fungi from evolving to beat it again.

Why does our government not take the lead to have a Banana Day so as to sensitize people around the blue planet and to raise funds for researches?

We can lead the way by giving away the equivalent of the price of a minister’s car!
By the time the government of the day or any government decide what to do, I am cocksure that their indifference will drive me bananas. Time to eat a couple of yellow bananas to lower my high blood pressure…

Unless “bananapocalyse” is coming but I am too optimist like Jean-Paul Sartre to be pessimist. Don’t wait until cyclone class IV is in force on bananas with dire and terminal effect.

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