Securing the future of the UK’s favourite fruit

20th January 2017

3Keel works on resilience in our food system. The combination of globalisation, modern agriculture and climate change presents risks in the form of pests and diseases expanding their ranges and host organisms. In this theme, 3Keel has kicked off a multi-disciplinary Global Food Security research project, called Bananex, with the universities of Exeter and Oxford to investigate the future of the UK’s favourite fruit: the banana.

Recent expansion of the virulent Panama Disease Tropical Race 4 (TR4) presents a huge risk to the banana trade. The disease is a new strain of the Fusarium fungus that can infect the Cavendish cultivar, a cultivar introduced because of its resistance to a previous strain of Panama Disease and the only internationally traded banana variety.

TR4 emerged in Asia, and has destroyed plantations across Australasia. If TR4 reaches Latin America and the Caribbean, banana supply to Europe and the US could collapse and bananas may disappear from UK supermarkets with far-reaching consequences for consumers and producers.

Currently there are no chemical controls for the disease, and research programmes are aiming to develop resistant varieties or alternative methods of disease control. This research programme seeks to determine the impact of emerging diseases and other factors like changing climate on banana production, and to test new methods for disease control. The programme will also develop an economic model to understand how the UK value chain will respond to shocks in the system, and the wider impact on consumers.

Within the project, the 3Keel team will be providing an interface to retailers and other food businesses, and supporting stakeholder engagement workshops.